Formerly homeless, gay teen now in college
Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless youth in America, between 20 and 40 percent are believed to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
Experts say these youth are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors -- or take their own lives.
After coming out of the closet, one local teen kept another big secret for more than a year.
Two weeks after Kadeem Swenson came out to his parents, he says they asked him to leave their Waldorf, Maryland home.
"I came out to them when I was 16," he tells ABC7. "You know I didn't really fight it, I just left."
He moved in with his grandmother and later with some friends. But eventually he ran out of options.
Kadeem says he found shelter in an abandoned apartment building just off Mississippi Avenue, SE.
He survived eating cheap fast food, but many nights went hungry. And he used public bathrooms to wash up...
"I didn't have running water, there was no electricity," he says.
But he was committed to getting a diploma so he enrolled himself at Ballou "Stay" Senior High - an alternative school for at-risk youth.
"I didn't really want to tell nobody because I didn't want nobody to have pity on me," he says.
On and off for more than a year, Kadeem says he was homeless, living on the streets of Southeast Washington. And during that time, he says not one other person knew his secret, that he was homeless.
"Kadeem always had a pleasant smile, always. No one would ever know what he was going through," says Annette Boxley-Drew.
When he finally ran out of money, Kadeem confided in a school guidance counselor.
She and others helped him get temporary housing through a support organization for homeless gay and transgender youth.
Kadeem then went on to graduate from Ballou.
Now 19, Kadeem's taking classes at the Community College of D.C.
And with a student loan, he's living in an apartment building in Van Ness...
"I don't think about me. I think more about the people who aren't as lucky as me," he says.
Advocates for gay homeless youth say Kadeem's success story is a rare one.
Many end up addicted to drugs, and then get into prostitution.
As for his real parents, Kadeem says he's only seen them once, at his high school graduation.
Still, he remains hopeful that someday they'll reconnect.
"I love them both very much and I don't have anything against the," he says.
Looking back, despite being rejected and then homeless, Kadeem says he's proud of himself and has no regrets.
"Why be unhappy? Life is too short. Why be around people who can't accept you anyway?