If You See Them cover


Young, Unhoused, and Alone in America

By: Vicki Sokolik

Published: February 13, 2024

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau


Vicki Sokolik is the founder and executive director of Starting Right, Now (SRN), a program in Florida that helps unhoused students (teenagers) considered “unaccompanied homeless youth”. The organization provides social and health services, housing, tutoring, counseling, and more to youth who are not living with a parent or guardian and are not eligible for foster care due to their unique circumstances. These are youth who have been living on their own, bouncing from couch to couch at a friend’s house, living homeless in parks or on the street, but are not considered runaways.

You may think that your community, your school, or your neighborhood doesn’t have any homeless teens, but let me tell you, I bet it does. Even though this organization is based in Tampa, Florida, there are likely homeless and unaccompanied youth in the small and big towns near you. I live in a small town of 700 people with our high school having approximately 500 students and I can say for certain that we have youth that would qualify for this program if it was offered here.

Though many children in the school system fail to get the help they require, the issues of unaccompanied homeless youth nationwide are exacerbated because they do not have anyone paying attention to their needs.

Sokolik shares the backstory of how she became aware of the need for a program for these particular types of teens who were continually falling through the cracks of the school services and human service programs. Even though she came from a very privileged background, she is the parent of a child with epilepsy and has been used to advocating and making her voice heard. So, when she saw a need, she used those skills to advocate for these homeless youth.

The stories shared in the book are all true. Most of the time the actual people share their personal stories of homelessness, abuse, addiction, hunger, failing school, and how SRN helped them graduate high school, attend and even graduate college, and become successful adults who contribute to society. Not all the stories shared in the book are successful. Many of the people featured in this book needed multiple tries by the SRN staff and school officials to convince them to stay with the program.

As a former social worker who worked with the homeless and as someone who now works in our school system, I could see many of the youth featured in this book in the students and families in our district. I was extremely impressed with the persistence, the amount of resources, and the way these students have succeeded through SRN in Tampa. I wish every community could have a program like SRN available to them.

Owning a book. Owning it forever. It was such a small thing that I took for granted – and never would again.

So many things that most of us take for granted were found to be some of the most precious gifts of the youth helped by the SRN program. Things like a brand-new pillow, clothes that were not previously owned by someone else, an actual bed to sleep on, or a book are items that the youth have held onto long into adulthood to remind them of the support they received from the staff at SRN.

“It was overwhelming to see that I could walk into a kitchen and eat something. And I had my own toothbrush, and a pillow. It was my own pillow and brand-new. Nobody had slept on it before me. My pillow made me feel like everything was ok because it was mine.”

…Years later, she still had that pillow because, as she told me, it was “where I finally laid my head down and felt safe.”

I found this book to be informative, compelling, heartbreaking, and eye-opening. I will never look at homeless youth the same way again. If you work in social services, in a school system, or want to better understand the needs of these teens, I highly recommend reading this book.

To purchase a copy of IF YOU SEE THEM, click HERE.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.

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