In January 2014, I was 19 and in a hospital. When the staff decided I was ready to leave, I met with a social worker who gave me the phone numbers of shelters. She did her best.
I walked out of the hospital and onto the street. Soon after I left, I went to a pay phone and called some of the numbers. I was hoping someone would help me figure out where I could sleep that night. But, no one answered the phone. I stood at the pay phone feeling embarrassed and hopeless. I’m not the type to ask for money or other necessities. I wandered around Cambridge, hoping that something would happen.
Around 6 pm, it started raining really hard. I went to the Palmer Street alley-way in Harvard Square and hid on the corner, praying to G-d to help me make it through the night. I woke up every 15 minutes to make sure no one stole my backpack and other things. Sometimes I thought it was morning, but the sky was still black. Some people walked by: college students and regular Cambridge residents. They had homes to go to and places to be. Some were laughing and having a good time. None of them made eye contact with me or seemed to notice me. I felt invisible.
There was a concrete bench, and I sat on it, waiting for night to end. I stayed dry under an overhang. As I tried to sleep, I worried about where I would get food and who would help me. It was hard for me to accept that I was homeless. Your first night on the streets is really scary – you don’t know what lurks in the dark.
When I woke up and saw the light of day, I thanked G-d that I survived the night. I gathered my things and went to Starbucks. A guy accidentally knocked into me and asked if I was okay. He said: “Your eyes are bloodshot. Did you sleep okay last night?” I told him what I had been through. I thought he would walk away, but instead he bought me a coffee and bagel and wished me luck. At that moment, I realized that people can be compassionate, generous, kind, and loving. His act of kindness gave me strength to get through the day and inspired me to give back to others.
The next night, I was on the streets again. However, one of the "Village Elders" of homeless people in Harvard Square gave me a blanket and took care of me. I felt a little stronger and warmer because I had people looking out for me. Even when you are homeless, there is a community of people who care about you.
Since those first nights on the streets, I have joined the Advisory Board of Y2Y Harvard Square: a student-run overnight shelter providing a safe and affirming environment for young adults experiencing homelessness. It helps build a place for teenagers to get support, food, and a warm bed.
I never want anyone else to go through what I have been through. Hopefully, they won’t have to. I want to hold onto the memory of those nights and some of the help I received so whenever I feel down and depressed, I can remind myself that if I can survive that experience, I can survive anything.
This post is fourth 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.
Read Andrew's post, first in the series on youth homelessness and resiliency.
Read Ayala's post, "Whose Voices Do We Value?," second in the series on youth homelessness and resiliency.
Read Lauren's post, third in the series on youth homelessness and resiliency.
Learn about youth homelessness by listening to this t3 podcast: