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What do you assume when you see someone young and homeless?

Homeless man
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More Michigan residents are seeking help at homeless shelters and warming centers this winter.

When you see people who are homeless, especially young people, it can be easy to make assumptions about their lives. At least that’s what Robert Sporny says.

And he says your assumptions about homeless youth are probably wrong. As a baby, he was adopted, and his childhood with his adopted family was difficult. 

There was alcoholism and abuse in the family. On the last day of high school, at age 17, Sporny decided to permanently leave the situation.

“And I got on my bicycle and basically rode all the way across town to a friend’s house," Sporny said.

For a while he slept in his friend’s tree house. Eventually he hooked up with Ozone House, a non-profit that helps homeless and runaway youth.

The organization helped him connect with a food program and other services. Overall, Sporny was homeless for one year.

“Homeless young people look like they want to be homeless … but nobody who’s an intelligent human being chooses that lifestyle, unless there was something that had happened to them earlier in their life that made that lifestyle actually seem logical,” Sporny said.

Today, Sporny is an attorney in Ann Arbor. He's helped at-risk youth in juvenile court and speaks to organizations about his experience with homelessness.

The story was produced by Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris. 

*Listen to the full story above.

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