20 year old son on the streets, heartbroken mom

I hope this is the right place to post for my situation. I did an Internet search for support for moms of homeless sons and a thread on this forum came up. I am really grieving and need support from others who will understand.

My 20 year old son has been living with us since last Dec when he was evicted for non payment of rent. At that time, he had stopped attending work or school, and blew through his financial aid money in just a few months. He had been lying to me about it, but I knew something wasn't right because every time I called he was home.

He has been aggressive his whole life and he has diagnosises to explain why. Still, he can control his behavior and is appropriate in school and social settings. Just like his bio father, all the nasty behavior only comes out at home. We have tried EVERYTHING to help this child. He has had evaluations galore, all sorts of medications, individual therapy, family therapy, inpatient, outpatient, day treatment. We sold our house and moved into a small apartment to pay for the last stint in day treatment. At 15, after he assaulted his brother and nearly broke his arm we pressed charges and he did court mandated anger management. Months later he threw a chair across the room in a fit of rage, nearly hitting his 4 month old brother. I called the police, not for the first time, but this time I demanded they do something, anything. A social worker met with me and after reviewing the case decided that for the safety of the other children, he should be placed in foster care. He was in special needs foster care until he was 18. He was very difficult for his foster parents as well, not violent, but defiant and unwilling to follow rules, etc.

Our relationship improved greatly while he was not in my home and so at 18 I allowed him to return to live with us. Big mistake. Within just a few days, his negative behavior returned. About 3 months later he assaulted his other younger brother who was 12 at the time and half his size. The police refused to take him into custody (despite the fact that he was an adult and had just repeatedly hit a minor hard enough to leave marks!) and suggested he stay with a family member for a while to "cool off". We were not planning to take him back in but he was unable to find anyone else who would help him and that meant us or homelessness and so we allowed him to come back into the home on the strict condition that he would never lay a hand on anyone.

He kept to that, though he did have outbursts against property and verbally was abusive. He can be very friendly and is fun to talk to so he will learn details about you and then when he is angry, will use that knowledge to hurt you. He has done it so many times and yet I still fall for it. I don't even know if it's intentional. I think it's just how his brain works. At one point, his behavior spiraled downward again and we kicked him out for his abusive language (towards me mostly.) He claimed he was suicidal and was hospitalized for a few days. Afterward he was in a homeless shelter for 4 days and then rode the bus and walked to our house to ask for a hair cut so he could look decent for a job interview. My heart broke for him so we negotiated an agreement where he could live with us for a short time while he looked for work. But as time went on, he had excuse after excuse why he could not get a job. He was also clearly unable to manage his own medications which would lead to his outbursts.

After a ton of parental prodding/handholding over many months, he was enrolled in college, had a job, and a small affordable apartment. And within 3 months it all fell apart. Right before Christmas and bitter cold, we took him in. He was supposed to be out again in 3 months, but he again showed no interest at all in getting a job or on his feet again. We were not very accommodating and he slept on a mattress on the floor had very little belongings here, but it didn't seem to bother him. His entire day would be spent in bed or online, usually watching news or politics.

It has been 7 months, still no job, no motivation to find one. His entitled attitude just keeps getting worse. His only source of income is donating plasma and he blows that money on food, clothes, or entertainment. He doesn't keep doctor appointments and is on and off medications all the time as a result. I finally convinced him to get an appointment but by that time he had been off for 4 days and I could see his behavior escalating. I was late picking him up from plasma and he was furious, yelling at me in the car. Then went into the house and broke his computer and yelled profanities at the top of his lungs just feet from where his youngest siblings were. My husband sent him out and he walked across the street and kicked the crap out of a bicycle rack. We made him stay out until the children were in bed and then discussed his options which at this point was the shelter. He was extremely remorseful and tears, said he was ashamed of his behavior and completely understood our point of view but could he please have one more night? He had a job interview in the morning and a doctor appointment and wanted to shower and look nice, etc.

We decided to let him stay the night but he was to leave the house immediately in the morning and get himself to the doctor appointment on his own dime by taking the bus (he doesn't have a car or a license). He was also to stay out for the day and we would talk to him once the kids were in bed and make a plan. Never at any point did we say he was allowed back in. While he was gone, we took the kids to an event at a park and he called about 7 pm, asking if he could let himself in through the back door but my husband said, no, you are not allowed in without us there. I was confused why he would even be asking, given the situation. He called again at 8:50 and started yelling that he was "hungry and thirsty and tired and had been waiting for 2 hours already!!!" When my husband suggested he walk to the convenience store down the block and get a drink, he responded with "F*** you!" and hung up.

He absolutely doesn't get it. He takes no responsibility for himself and he gets furious when we deny him what he thinks he has the right to. I have been feeling for months that the more I let him stay, the more I am enabling him to continue his destructive patterns. When we got home, we let him sleep, take a shower, and pack his things. He was gone this morning and took very little. Left a note saying he may go to the hospital and had applied for job corps. He apologized in the letter. I have no way of contacting him. He doesn't have a working phone. It's so so sad. All of it. It's a tragedy that should never have happened. He was so loved and wanted. I have disciplined him his whole life, and taught him right from wrong. But when he is angry, his morals take a backseat. He says and does things I never imagined. And I can't have that in my home. But not knowing where he is and how he is doing, where he is sleeping tonight, did he eat today...it's almost worse. There sits his broken computer, his pile of dirty clothes, his mattress. Part of me is angry and wants to toss it all in the dumpster. The other part of me feels sad, filled with grief, like someone died. I have no idea what the future holds but I know I can't let him live here, even if homelessness is his only alternative.


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Hello Night Owl Mama,

Yes, this is definitely the right place for you to come with your story. You have come to the right place. Welcome to the forum, although I’m sorry for the reason you had to find us. We are all here because of difficult adult children.

This is a safe place with a lot of support and everyone here understands. You are not alone. Your story sounds so similar to so many heard on this site. You will learn a lot and gain support and comfort from reading other people’s threads here, who have gone through similar situations.

One of the first places to start is to read the article on Detachment at the top of this forum. You can learn to start detachment (emotional detachment, detachment from the outcome, detachment from enabling and providing…. etc. Here is the link to the article. http://www.conductdisorders.com/community/threads/article-on-detachment.53639/#axzz4CeyCs0QM
Still, he can control his behavior and is appropriate in school and social settings. Just like his bio father, all the nasty behavior only comes out at home.
Our relationship improved greatly while he was not in my home
As you have experienced already, your relationship with your son and his behavior are better when he is not in your home. Yes. Many of us here have learned that. This is OK. It has nothing to do with you. Most all our difficult children (the children that we discuss on this forum) do better when they are not in our home. Leaving our home / being out of our homes is the only way for many of them to take their own necessary responsibility for their lives, even if it means being homeless and hungry.

Your son has now left on his own. It is alright. He will be alright. Release him, and think / know that you are giving him the freedom to try his wings. Breathe. Slow - way- down. Stay calm with detachment and confidence that he will find his way. The best thing you can do for him now is to take care of yourself and your other children.
He absolutely doesn't get it. He takes no responsibility for himself and he gets furious when we deny him what he thinks he has the right to. I have been feeling for months that the more I let him stay, the more I am enabling him to continue his destructive patterns ... It's so so sad ... I have no idea what the future holds but I know I can't let him live here, even if homelessness is his only alternative.
Yes. You are spot on Night Owl. You definitely have an understanding of what is happening and see how you may be enabling the destructive behavior. You show your strength through your pain and heartache. We hear you. We've been there also. We are with you here. Stay with us and keep posting and reading the other’s threads. There is a wealth of wisdom in the old and new threads on this site. It all helps ~ one day at a time. More folks will be along to share in support and provide their wisdom and guidance.
Take each day as it comes. You are going to be alright. Take care. Kalahou
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Hello Night Owl, welcome. I'm sorry for your pain. Its a pain known well to all of us here. Yes, it's like someone died. We grieve the loss of the child we knew, the happy future we envisioned them having and the relationship we once enjoyed with them. My son is 26 and hes been homeless two years. Its devastating. Watching them suffer has got to be one of the most painful experiences to be had in this life. I have found much comfort here and believe you will too. Others will be along in the morning to welcome you and share their wisdom. They have found ways to go on with life, and not merely surviving, but enjoying living and experiencing peace. I am not to that stage quite yet but since my son was diagnosed bipolar at age 3, I've had a lot of practice dealing with sadness and fear about him. Its definitely getting worse the older he gets, although he is less violent than when he was a teenager. He is still my favorite person in the world. It gets easier, the homeless part of it, for me. At first I was certain he would surely die. But he kept turning up, much dirtier than he was before, but still in one piece. The homeless people have a network of some sort. They tell each other where to go for food and other stuff. They make it somehow.
You are not alone. Glad you found us, but sorry you needed to. Hugs


Well-Known Member
Welcome to our little corner of the world. My son is turning 20 in August. His story reads very much like yours. Mine no longer lives at home for the very reasons that you asked your son to leave. There comes a time when we have to decide that we matter and deserve peace. We would not allow a stranger to treat us like that. We should not tolerate it from someone we sacrificed for.
Thank you for your responses. I know so many have gone through this and it helps so much to read the threads here. Many seem written just for me! I spent way too much time reading last night actually and didn't go to bed until way too late lol but it was worth it. Lots of coffee needed this morning! :)

I did read the detachment article and I am familiar with many of these concepts because of issues with other family members. My mother and my brother are both addicts and have been homeless many times, for years at a time. I have learned that very delicate line of loving without losing myself in their drama. I don't always succeed, especially when I see evidence that they are improving and my hopes get raised. My brother passed away last Sept at 32 years old from leukemia, but it was really his addiction and mental illness that took his life. He could not tolerate the treatment and hospital stays, refused medication that would have treated his paranoia. All he wanted was pain medications and benzodiazepines. It was so very sad. My son witnessed this firsthand, being that he didn't have a job he would sometimes hang out for the day at the hospital with his uncle and talk with him. His eyes were opened to what untreated mental illness looks like from the outside and he begged me to never let him be like that. And I tried, I really did. But it was out of my control.

My son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety at 4, mood disorders at 7, bipolar not otherwise specified at 12, aspergers at 13, ADHD at 14. While I do know it affects him, I have seen him use it as an excuse. He has a network of support as a child who was in foster care if he would choose to access it. He was even approved at one point for housing! But he missed his appointment twice and lost it. He blamed that on having untreated ADHD (because he missed his doctor appointment!) He is double covered insurance wise, but it was just not a priority. I have seen him go after something he wants and there is no stopping him. Why he wouldn't want to be stable and mentally clear is beyond me. Even after getting kicked out and going to his doctor appointment the other day, he told my husband he hadn't got his rx filled because the pharmacy was closed. His appointment was in the morning and he had bus fare, so again, it wasn't a priority. They don't close until 6pm, he could have gotten it if he wanted. These are some of the consequences I want him to take responsibility for. Making poor choices re your mental health = behavior outbursts = loss of family relationships = homelessness!!! The remedy is simple! He has seen first hand other family members self sabotage but doesn't see himself doing the same thing. He is always the victim.


Well-Known Member
Well, he has so many challenges, he IS a victim and so are you. SADLY THERE IS NO WAY TO FORCE A DISORDERED THINKING. MENTALLY ILL ADULT INTO TREATMENT. AND the stigma is still so great that many deny their illnesses. Parents of mentally ill kids also sometimes deny it as they see mental illness as shameful or hopeless and that isnt true and doesn't help. But the fact is that there is very little treatment that is low cost for ther mentally ill. And that is tragic.

If he is willing, getting on Disability, which he'd likely qualify for, can open doors to independent living. There is SSI, medical, housing and other services. Living with you isn't working and your other kids matter too.

At the same time, I am learning here that being homeless does not help all adult kids become self sufficient. Some will always need assistance and won't do well just languishing out there, but they also do not have to live in your house. The services can find them housing and support. After all, none of us will be here forever. They need yo find help outside of just us for the long term.

Is your son drug free?
Yes, drug free, although shows many signs of addictive personality with his internet usage. He also has a binge eating disorder. I worry that the support system he may find on the street could lead to drug use. That would devestate me. As an aspie with black and white thinking, he has always sworn off that lifestyle. I hope that will continue to be a protection for him.

He has applied once for SSI but was denied. He is so very high functioning, brilliant and well spoken. It's hard for evaluators to see how his disability affects him. You have to live with him to really see it. That is how he was finally diagnosed, after a team of doctors and therapists observed his daily behavior in the inpatient and day treatment units. He will perseverate on one topic, struggles greatly with hygiene, etc.
I think every raging tantrum he has ever had was due to one of the following:
1. Food (not having his preferred foods available)
2. Screen/media usage restrictions (i.e. You cant use xyz until you first do abc..)
3. Unexpected events such a cancellation of plans, being late, etc.
4. Sensory overload (noise, too many people talking)

Still, he has the ability not to rage. These things have happened in other places and he kept his cool. And the rage and verbal cruelty that comes out at home is totally out of proportion to the situation. If he acted that way in public he'd be arrested. There is a part of me that thinks he almost needs to experience that to "get it".


Well-Known Member
If he brings medical documentation of inability to hold a job due to mental illness and autism, that's the key. A high ranking medical persons diagnosis and a long history of wrongly wired behavior. IQ is not important. It's about ones inability to function or work or be totally independent because a professional named one or more diagnoses that block these from happening. Work failure is huge.

Frankly my son's behavior is extremely high functioning. No meltdowns at all. Can learn from his mistakes. Pleasant and likeable. But he still struggles in a few areas and would have trouble supporting himself by holding a full time job. With his SSI and part time job he can afford his own place and his toys. He does not break tje law or use drugs or even smoke. Thank the Lord.

A neuropsycologist (not to be confused with a neurologist...they are totally different ) tested my son and stated he would need supports, although he has a normal IQ.

My son is 23, happy, independent and evolves more every year. He doesn't depend on us hardly at all, although we live close by. In fact he is reliable and a few times we have asked him to help us out. Considering how disordered he started out (drug and alcohol exposure in utero by his birthmothet) his ascent to nearly normal is a miracle. He responded well to services and works very hard. But the services needed to be offered. We parents are not professionals. We don't know how to intervene and help.

You need to get your son an advocate like a neuropsycologist. It is hard to get SSI without a trail. My son is very articulate too...amusing because he didn't really speak until he was five.

Good luck!!!
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Well-Known Member
Welcome, Night Owl. I am sorry you had to find us but glad that you did.

Wow, you have been through quite a wringer, Night Owl. How heartbreaking.

It is all so sad, when the remedy is right at hand and they just won't pick it up. It is doubly hard, I think, because they are so young, and usually emotionally even younger than that because of their problems.

No, clearly you cannot allow him to live with you, Owl. You and your family have the right to physical and emotional safety.

And at 20 years old, you can't *force* him to do the things he needs to do in order to avoid his outbursts. But this is so much more than just a "tough love" scenario.

If he is capable of controlling his behavior when it suits him, then hopefully this will help him see the necessity of making his treatment more of a priority. If his rages are restricted to when he knows they are "safe," so to speak, I can't help but believe that he is capable of taking more responsibility for them and their prevention.

Ugh, Night Owl. It's quite a conundrum. I don't know enough about the services available to offer any advice, but I wanted you to know I am reading along.
We have connected him with advocates before but he doesn't follow through. He is enrolled in voc rehab and has another advocate in TAL (transition to adult living) and even a case manager through Medicaids behavioral health. He has funds he can access once he has a job (they will pay to get him into an apartment, and he can have up to $1500 for a car!) Our hope is that his desperation once our support is removed will force him to take advantage of the resources that are sitting there waiting for him. He has a long list of medical and court records from foster care to show how his disability affects him if he decides to use it. When it's me making the decisions, he fights it. So I think it has to come from him. And it will never come from him if I continue to house, clothe, and feed him.

But the deal breaker for me is his abusive treatment of the only true advocates he has, his step dad and me. I have warned him for years that if you bite the hand that feeds you, eventually you aren't going to get fed. It's not the first time we have made good on that, but this time needs to be the last. I have to stop this cycle. I told him before he left that I don't think I can have a relationship with him right now. I need to focus on my own healing. I worked hard to free myself from a 10 year abusive marriage and 10 years later the PTSD/abuse triggers my son uses are uncanny. Same tone, same posture, same facial expression...I can't cope with the anxiety it gives me. I either become enraged myself, or fall into depression and despair. Neither is acceptable given the fact I have 5 other children, three of whom are young children, and I am pregnant and trying hard not to bathe this baby's neurons in toxic stress chemicals. So as much as I feel for him, and know he is up against a lot of obstacles, I MUST detach from him and the details of his life right now for my own well-being. And really it's best for him too. In one of his lucid moments he once told me the only way he has ever accomplished anything is when he has a fire under his butt. Truth.


Well-Known Member
I think you are right. Good decision. He IS the one who needs to accept help and you have to take care of yourselves and the others.
My plan if he does contact me is to express my love for him and my confidence in his ability to get his life together if he so chooses. In the meantime I am trying to stay busy and keep my mind on other things (coming here when that doesn't work). A stomach bug seems to be working its way through the little ones so we are vegging out and watching movies and coloring. Kinda therapeutic. I may have my 18 year old watch the kiddos and try to get out of the house for a while.


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Night Owl, I so agree that this needs to be his decision. Your plan sounds really good and so well thought out. I think you have been a tremendous advocate for your son. I hope he comes out of this realizing such.

My son is also homeless, once again. In his case it is 100% because of his alcoholism. He has burned every bridge, as they say.

Well, there is definitely never a GOOD time to get a stomach bug, but nice to have a bit of a retreat for coloring and watching movies today! Hope everyone is on the mend soon.
Thank you for that validation. I too hope he knows that I have always wanted nothing more than for him to succeed and be well. I miss him today. I really do. It's strange but he had become a good friend the last few years. An very unstable friend yes, but a pretty constant presence and he was generally fun and helpful, except when he wasn't. That probably only makes sense to someone who has lived this right?

I remember missing my ex though in a similar way but of course none of the good was ever worth the price of living in fear of another blowup. I need to find a way to remember my son's positive qualities without letting my guard down. I feel myself start to do that so I grab back onto the anger as a shield...I have always been such an optimistic, benefit of the doubt type of person. It's hard to find my footing. I am guessing that is pretty normal?

And yes, first time ever I have been somewhat thankful my kids are sick and I have a good excuse to sit around not doing much haha. Other than laundry that is. Bleh.


Well-Known Member
Hello Night Owl and Welcome.

Well. What can I say? Almost every single one of us has a variation of your story.

It seems that most of our kids share elements in common with your son: Violence, hostility, anger, lack of motivation, lying, resisting authority, unwillingness to engage with the world, not wanting to take responsibility, depression and wanting to isolate. Preoccupation with unhealthy stuff on the internet (in my son's case conspiracy theories). Not to mention drugs.

My son is 27 now. And doing better. Mentally ill, but making better choices. Sweet again. Working for us, and willingly so. Learning. Contributing. And living with us, something, even 6 months ago, I would have thought would be impossible.

I told him to leave my home when he was 23. Subsequently he had multiple admissions to hospitals for being suicidal, was homeless and did get on SSI. More than 4 years he was gone from here coming home when he had nowhere to go, and I would throw him out again when he would try to dominate us, call the cops on us, get physical, whatever.

And then he began to change. It began when he started working for a friend. But it was not an uphill path. There were ups and downs and brick walls. Losing more opportunities, still. And with all of that he learned, and I believe he matured some. He is still mentally ill. But he sees both the need to and he wants to be constructive, not destructive. He wants to be part of a family--he wants to work with us. In all of that, things turned around 100 percent.

So with all of this I am saying that the beginning is making him responsible for his behavior and for his own well-being, because right now he has it in his head that you are responsible. And we all of us mothers felt that too, that we were responsible. And that is not true. They are adults now, our children. They must be responsible. If they are too ill to take responsibility, society will do so for them. Parents are not equipped. So, your son will decide for himself which way he will go. His capacity will decide. And his will to survive will decide. And he will choose.

But for right now, for you it is time to rest and recuperate and to learn how to detach. How to love your son from a distance, until he decides, or it is decided for him. You cannot do it. I cannot do it. It will be up to him.

I am glad you are here. You will receive a great deal of support, knowledge and friendship. Post a lot if you can. It really, really helps.
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Your post gives me hope. Thank you. Agreed that I am not equipped to help him and if he cannot then society will need to. I may just use that if he calls and tries to get me to rescue him again. Because truth is, he may not be quite equipped to fully help himself, though he is far more capable than he lets on. I do believe he is perfectly capable of working and managing a small apartment again if he is motivated to do so. Job Corps would be a perfect bridge I think. I hope he can get accepted.


Well-Known Member
I agree about telling your son about programs if he asks you for help. Mental health. Drug programs. Homeless shelters. Social Services. Food Stamps. SSI. Residential treatment. Job Corps. Even the military, although my son was ineligible due to a health issue.

Iinsisted my son go to Job Corps in 2008 when he was 19. I told him he could not come home until he completed a program. He picked the shortest one and did complete it. Really, I did not want to let him come home.

He hated Job Corps but I loved it.

What I want to get across is this: I was wrong to believe that the solutions were "out there" in a program, college, a job. Because he did all of these things. I forced him. And he undermined each one because they were not things he was either prepared to do, or wanted to do, or ready to do.

In the end I came to believe that by pushing him I may have made it harder, made it worse, not easier or better. I am not sure.

There is no solution outside of them: that they decide to change. Or not.

Well, actually, there is a solution in you. That you decide you are no longer responsible or able to do it for him. And stick to it. This is hard, hard work. I hope you stay here and post. It really helps.

Take care.
Exactly. If the solution were found outside of him, we wouldn't be here. He has had a ton of intervention and still no lasting change. The missing ingredient is him being invested in the outcome. It know it has to come from him. My head gets that. My heart not so much but I know this is the best way I am able to love him. I hope he can one day see that. Who knows, he may not even be mad at me. He wasn't when he went to foster care. He knew he wasn't safe. He loves his siblings, especially the little ones. Once his head clears from the rage he always feels guilty that he exposed them to that. I do think beneath it all he has a good heart.


Well-Known Member
Good Morning Night Owl,

Welcome to the forum, a soft place to land. I debated whether or not to post, because your son is not an addict. My son is 21 and homeless. You can find my post about buying him a tent. Something that stood out in your post was the physical harm he did to the younger children. If he controls his behavior outside your home, that might be the safest environment for you, your children and him.

It's hard to accept the consequences for his behavior, for you and him, however I truly believe natural consequences allow our children to grow. I was crushed when I realized my son chose to be homeless over being sober and having a nice home. I have learned that he functions better with his homeless community, our home is more peaceful and my younger children are getting the opportunity to grow up in a safe home.

I had to show my daughter's that his behavior wasn't acceptable just because he said "I'm sorry" because his apology didn't erase the fear and anxiety they were exposed to at the time of his rage. I grew up in a similar home and didn't exhale until I was 24.

I am glad you have taken steps to keep the little ones safe. It sounds like you have done a great job of fostering a positive relationship with all of your children. You have a lot of special gifts to be able to care for them all and their special needs. Take care of YOU in the process.

Love, JMOM