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NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

FOR THESE TEENS, LIFE ON THE STREET IS NOTHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT.

On cold days, they'll crowd in right when the place opens at 4 p.m.
Right now, fifteen-year-old Mike is running his hands through his long mohawk and trying to remember the last time he dreamed about the future.

"I wanted to be an astronaut," Mike says. "About five years ago."
Today Mike is a two-year veteran of downtown Denver street life. He often directs new kids to the regular food-handout spots, the restrooms where they will be tolerated and places that may afford them a night's rest.

He's tried going home a few times. But his mother's boyfriend is on a perpetually short fuse. The last time he tried to return, about eight months ago, the man tried to rip the rings from his pierced eyebrow, tongue and ear.

"I talk to my mom probably once a month," Mike says. "She says I should come home. But we both know I can't."

Like that of many of his companions now, Mike's ambition doesn't go much further than the day's meal. He doesn't spange often because he says people tend to be less giving with young male homeless. Occasionally, if he happens to run into this one guy, he'll camp out for concert tickets and make $10 or $15.

"I don't need money, because I can get food for free," he says.
Neither Mike nor any of the other school-aged homeless in his group attends school; few express any plans of returning. But most think about taking the GED, and some have already done so.

But that doesn't mean they're ready to rejoin the "real" world. "Look, I'm a yuppie," one young man says as he grasps an imaginary briefcase, puts a stern look on his face and gets in step behind a man in his mid-thirties wearing a gray overcoat and dark suit.

The half-dozen youths who witness the performance laugh.
Still, others are making plans to move up--and out. Duzo and Paco say in five years they plan to be millionaires. Lately they're spending their days at Ready Men Labor, where they earn $24 a day. "I'm going to go to college and get in a good field," Paco says. "I'm waiting for my financial aid to come in. I know I'm not going to be here in five years."

Both realize they wasted the summer on the streets. Now they're waiting to get their Peak night privileges back, and then, they say, they'll be able to get their lives on track. "It's difficult when you're sleeping outside to show up at a job clean," Paco says. "It's also expensive, because you have to buy ready-to-eat foods."

Paco used to work for his cousins selling drugs. "It's too high-risk," he says. "I could be doing it right now."

Duzo says they haven't sold drugs in about a month.
While Duzo and Paco have a plan, most who want off the streets aren't sure how to start. "My goal before I die is to have a book published," Skyler says. "I hope I can do it."

Over the past six months she's seen several of her friends get out. "Sometimes you won't see someone for a couple of months, then they come back and they're so happy because they got a job and a place," she says. "That is so cool. You just hope and think that that will be me someday."

In the meantime, her address is Skyline Park, the squat and the streets of downtown Denver, says Skyler. "I think the reason I stay down here is because it's the only place I can really call home.

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