What’s in a Backpack?

  • “Where thou art, that is home.” – Emily Dickenson
  • “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”                        – Maya Angelou

What’s in those backpacks, anyway?

By Paula Heath, Teen Feed Advocate

At Teen Feed, every night, those of us volunteers who greet and sign in the youth for dinner must ask each whether they have, in their packs, any weapons to leave with us while they are ‘in program,’ eating their meal with the group. The most serious item I’ve seen was a Swiss army knife. I have heard from others about a cardboard sword; numchucks; an over-long pole. But these are peaceful young people.

Homeless youth almost always have a backpack with them as they walk by on the sidewalks of the U District, or play at anonymity in a sunny spot in the park. There are daypacks, external frame backpacks for longer-term needs, messenger bags, duffels and even a diaper bag for those with babies. No two bags are alike, of course. Some were once school-kid day packs – colorful, or with bold patterns like hounds tooth checks, and not really roomy enough to carry your whole life.

Others are major backpacks: external-frame; extended-trip packs with 5500 cubic inches of volume; 30+ inches high. You can definitely see the entirety of your possessions fitting inside.

When you have no permanent base that you can call  home, you have to have with you not just the important physical-needs stuff (tooth and body care; condoms; matches; ID; bus passes; cat or dog food if you have a pet) – but also, the stuff that’s important to sustain your soul and spirit.

Clothes, undergarments, and sleeping bags could take up most of the space. But you’d allow plenty of room for favorite DVDs and paperbacks, personal journals, and precious batteries. Some, who enjoy making their own clothing, will have a collection of fabric scraps for future patchwork garments.

So, what’s in a backpack are personal items, symbols of simple human need (the practical) and emotions, hopes and dreams (the spiritually satisfying). In other words, the same things you would keep – and treasure – in your purse, family album, briefcase or home.

“In the end we’re all just people.” – Elisabeth Moore, a Teen Feed Advocate


  1. משחקים says:

    It’s hard to seek out knowledgeable folks on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks