Unlike sad, old homeless men and women, there's hope for homeless teens.

That's because, as part of the social networking generation, they seem to stay in touch. And that's good for survival and prospects of getting off the streets, according to a new USC study.

In fact homeless youths value their cellphones as much as they value …

… food or drugs, according to USC School of Social work researcher Eric Rice, author of the study (“Cell Phone Use Among Homeless Youth”) that is being published in this month's Journal of Urban Health.

According to a USC statement:

For teens without a home, paying the monthly subscription to a data plan for their smart phone is just as important as eating or a drug habit …

Rice found that a majority (62 percent) have cellphones, that half (51 percent) use them to stay in touch with friends from “home” and that many (41 percent) use them to stay in touch with family. More than one-third (36 percent) use the phones to call work or to look for jobs.

An earlier study by Rice found that a vast majority of homeless youths were online — 85 percent worth. They got their through their phones, libraries or “youth agencies,” according to USC.

Youths on the streets are less likely to have mental health issues and are generally less stuck to street life: Rice thinks the high-tech aspect of homeless teens is promising:

Homeless youth are not hopeless cases. They don't have to be lost … Cell phones have changed what it means to be a homeless teen as these youth can look for help beyond the streets. If you don't have to steal to get a meal, the chances of you going to jail decrease.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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