Spot the problem, find the help

‘If You See Them’ author, Vicki Sokolik.
Photo by Wil Lugo

“If You See Them: Young, Unhoused, and Alone in America” by Vicki Sokolik


Spiegel and Grau                                          


336 pages


You’ve looked everywhere.

In the closet, beneath the sink, in the corners of drawers and storage areas. You’ve opened totes, then taken your search outside, turned the garage upside-down, and checked every square inch of the back yard. Nothing. That confirms it. As author Vicki Sokolik says in her new book “If You See Them,” America’s teens may be affected by a hidden problem.

Vicki Sokolik loved to volunteer.

Growing up in a household of means in a palatial home, she knew she was lucky. She never went without and, years later, neither did her teenagers, both of whom were taught generosity and the spirit of giving. It was a good lesson, then when, as they were delivering holiday meals to families near their Florida home one winter, Sokolik met a woman who reluctantly revealed that she was employed but couldn’t afford permanent housing on her salary.

Sokolik was touched. She swung into action, befriended the woman, taught her financial basics, and helped her find housing. Eventually, the woman asked Sokolik to move on, to find someone else to help.

And so she did: Sokolik’s son was a compassionate soul. He worried about a classmate who seemed to have little-to-nothing and again, Sokolik seized the chance to help. Alas, it didn’t work out but the experience taught her and her family something important.

Some teens in America are in crisis.

Officially, they’re called “unaccompanied homeless youth,” but the reality is harsher: they’re kids who were kicked out or chose to permanently leave home for a variety of reasons. Because they weren’t removed by social workers or the state, they’re not eligible for welfare or any other assistance programs. They stay with friends or distant relatives that will have them, or they sleep on park benches. They get by, and they fall through the cracks.

Few people notice them, says Sokolik, because they do a good job at staying hidden but she knew those kids were out there. And she was going to do something about them…

For as long as there’ve been kids, there have been kids without a place to eat, shower, or lay their heads at night. The thing, says author Vicki Sokolik, is that those she writes about in “If You See Them” don’t want you to see them.

That seems odd until you know their reasoning, and Sokolik helps with that. She shows readers how this nationwide issue happened and what’s being done about it, through memories of her own life, work, family, and essays written by the “kids” she helped who are now adults. Dip in, and see how easy their tales are to read, even despite that many of them will make you wince. Still, without spoiling things, you can expect happy endings among the sad stories.

You can also expect your heart to be shattered.

This book is a gently urgent call to arms, a plea for attention, and a good read altogether. When you care about kids, “If You See Them” is a book to look for.