This post is first in a series of stories from youth about their experiences of homelessness and resiliency. Thank you to each of the authors who have so generously shared personal details of their lives for the benefit of others. We are inspired by their courage and hopes for the future. We must learn from their stories and partner with them to implement effective, meaningful solutions.
When I was 21, I was living in a group home run by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in the South End of Boston. I had been living there for a few years and was growing more and more frustrated with my situation. I didn’t have a lot of freedom to have friends and to do stuff that I felt other 21 year olds were doing. I couldn’t even have my cell phone when I was in the house. I knew my time with DCF was coming to an end. Maybe I was also scared and nervous about what was going to happen next since we had done little to no planning. I mostly felt frustrated and wanted my freedom.
So, I told the program director that I was leaving. He tried to get me not to leave. He pointed out that I didn’t have a plan for where I would go, how I would get food, or even the kind of people I would associate with. Staff tried to tell me what things would be like on the streets and in the shelters, but it didn’t really sink in. Or, it didn’t sink in enough to make me change my mind. I decided to leave anyway.
One night I just packed my bag – I put in a blanket, two changes of clothes, my cell phone, and my bank card and walked out the door. I made some phone calls to people I knew from work to see if I could stay with them, but couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I walked toward Boston Medical Center, where a lot of homeless people hang out. Not knowing what to do, I tried to make connections to figure out where I could stay.
Some of the people I met were clearly drug users, and I tried to stay clear of them. I met a girl who told me she was staying in a U-Haul truck and that I could stay with her. We went to where she stashed her blankets and bags, walked to the U-Haul parking lot, looked around to make sure there was no one else around, found a truck that wasn’t locked, and hopped into the back. We set our phone alarms for 6 am so we could get out before anyone found us. It was hard to sleep – it was cold and dark. I could hear the wind blowing, and I was worried about what might happen to me and my stuff. I woke up before my alarm went off and left before anyone could find me.
I eventually found my way to Youth on Fire’s (YOF) drop-in center. The staff there have helped me adapt to different situations and figure out where to go and how to be safe. They are people I trust and know have my best interests at heart. They have also supported me in the decisions I have make.
At YOF, I also met a community of other young people going through similar things. Having friends who understood what I was going through helped keep some of the depression away. They helped me find safe places to sleep and food to eat. They reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my situation and reminded me that things were going to get better. These friends have been my life-line through everything.
I am currently working at Landsdown Pub as a buser. I’m staying with a friend. I’ve been there for a month, and I think I will be able to stay until I have enough to pay for my own place. I am also working on improving my relationship with my family, and I am hopeful that it will keep getting better.
In five years, my goal is to have one job that allows me to pay my bills and be stable. I would like to go to college. I think about joining the military to help pay for school. I might study criminal justice or learn to run my own business. Maybe I’ll become a transitional specialist for people coming out of jails. In addition to what I will be doing for work, I want to find the person that I will spend the rest of my life with.
Sometimes I think about writing a book about my life that would inspire other people to overcome whatever is in front of them. I think I will always be an advocate for youth who are experiencing homelessness to help them find ways to make things better.
It is really hard to put your heart and soul into things when you’re not at a stable point in your life. When you worry about where your next meal will come from or where you will stay for the night, it’s hard to focus on things like school and getting to a better place because you are just in survival mode.
We need to have more supports for youth who are experiencing homelessness. We need better planning and supports for kids aging out of DCF, better benefits for people on public assistance, and more drop-in centers that provide resources and supports like Youth on Fire.
I want you who are reading this to know that even though this situation is really hard, people who are homeless can be resilient and strong. I have learned how to stay away from the wrong crowds, let people know what I need, and speak up for myself. None of this has been easy. I know what I want for myself and how to take steps to get it. To get out of where I was, I had to decide that I wanted to change and get help. I took some steps forward, and I know others can too.
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