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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Stories of Youth Homelessness & Resiliency: Lauren

03/17/16 02:34 PM | Lauren Leonardis | Youth, Homelessness, Resiliency


During the holiday season last year, my son and I were staying in a small church-run shelter. From 8:30 am to 5 pm, I had to leave to sit in an old church basement adjacent to the shelter’s office

It was a big room with some tables and chairs scattered around and a corner with some kids toys and a couch. The room was cold and dusty, and there was mouse poop behind the radiators. It smelled the way you would imagine an old church basement would smell. My son was just learning to walk and would often crawl across the floor, leaving his hands and knees dirty. 

A week before Christmas, a small school offered to donate toys to the shelters’ children. I was the only person there that day. The children walked from their school to the shelter office through the snow, holding gifts. When they arrived, the receptionist opened the door to the basement where my son and I were spending the day and exclaimed, as if I was on display, “And here is one of our homeless, single mothers!” The children peered around the doorway, and I just stood there looking at them, embarrassed and mortified. I never said anything to the receptionist, but that feeling has stayed with me.

Rewind approximately three and a half years. I was 19 when I first became homeless and slept outside on the streets. At 20, I met the man that would later be my son’s father. He was the sweetest and most genuine man I had ever met. He was also homeless and a struggling addict. On my 21st birthday, we got an apartment. It was also the day we discovered I was pregnant. At 22 years, I was a new mother, and my son was 3 months old.  Everything came crashing down – I found out my son’s father had secretly been using drugs the whole time. I kicked him out. This left me with no way to pay rent, rendering me and now my son homeless again.

Now, at 23 years, I am trying to make a difference. I completed the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance Leadership Development Program for young adults experiencing homelessness. I have spent time advocating with legislators, policymakers, and the Massachusetts Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth Commission to encourage the state to create more supports and services for homeless young adults. If there had been more prevention programs in place and more support for homeless youth to get housing, my family’s story might have been different.

I believe there should be a “Priority” designation on public housing applications for young adults to obtain housing subsidies. Currently, there are priorities for the elderly, disabled, domestic violence victims, and people in emergency shelter. It does not make sense to exclude youth and young adults from this list. Providing housing for youth prevents them from becoming chronically homeless adults later.

Despite everything I have been through, I would not change these experiences. Without them, I would not have had the courage or reason to advocate for current and future homeless youth. I know my story will continue to change and hopefully improve. And I hope the same for others in similar situations.

This post is third 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.

Learn about family homelessness by listening to this t3 podcast:

Listen Here

Image by Lou (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Lauren Leonardis

Written by Lauren Leonardis

Lauren Leonardis is a 23 year-old advocate, community member, and parent to a two-year old son. She has experienced homelessness as a young adult, traveling, staying in family shelters with her son, and finally obtained permanent housing in December 2015. She is a graduate of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance’s (MHSA) Leadership Development program and was part of passing the Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth Bill in the Massachusetts Legislature. She runs a Facebook page to raise awareness about who those experiencing poverty and homelessness really are. You can find the page at: http://www.facebook.com/ProjectFamiliar