When I go to a shelter, I don’t get any sleep. Sometimes it's because people wake up at 4:30 am and scream at the top of their lungs. Sometimes it’s because people are up watching TV and walking around.
But mostly, it's because the shelter is not a safe place. The first time I went to a shelter, I was 18 years old. I thought my life was over, and that I would have no social life. As a gay male, I was immediately harassed. I went to sleep every night just wishing that it would be over and wondering why I didn’t have my own place or at least some privacy.
A few days later, I was laying in bed, trying to go to sleep, when some guy started tapping my foot. He showed me his drugs, and I wondered “What is that?” So, I followed him downstairs, and he started sparking it up. It was the first time I saw crack up close. I turned around to go back inside because I’d never done drugs before and wasn’t interested in starting. I talked to a staff member who didn’t really care or say anything. After that night, I saw this guy frequently, and he didn’t say anything, but just looked at me. I worried what he thought about me, what he wanted from me, and what he might do to me. I wondered if I was wrong to say no and tell the staff?
When you’re young and in a shelter – especially if you’re a gay man – there are always guys who see you as vulnerable and want to take advantage of you. They ask you if you will sleep with them or do drugs with them. It doesn’t matter if you say yes or no – they just keep asking. It’s hard to turn people down every single day. You wonder “What is the big deal? Maybe I should just try it and see what its about?”
There are a million things I thought I would never do in a million years. But, because I’ve been on the streets and in the shelters, I have done them. I recently decided I could not go back to the shelters. I couldn’t deal with the harassment. I didn’t want to deal with drugs, and I worried about my safety. Instead, I end up going to the airport or just staying up all night.
A week ago, I decided I needed to get some sleep. The only place I could think of that wasn’t a shelter was the hospital emergency room. I slept in the waiting room until 5:30 am, and then when I tried to leave, they sectioned* me. I slept for four days straight.
When young people like me don’t have safe places to sleep, we sometimes end up getting into drugs, having unsafe sex, and sleeping with people we never thought we would. Homelessness starts to become a lifestyle. You have to be in by 3:30 pm to get a bed so you can’t work, go to school, or have a social life. The system is set up to perpetuate a homeless lifestyle with few opportunities to exit.
I think Massachusetts and the rest of the country can do better than this. Opportunities should be provided to get out of the system. We need housing, regardless of anything else. I never considered my situation a joke – but I always felt like I was being laughed at.
In five years, I want to be working a job helping people to exit homelessness. I want to be able to pay my bills and live in an apartment. I want to be in a relationship with someone who lets me be myself and appreciates me for all that I am.
I know that I can do this.
I also know that the State of Massachusetts and the United States can do more to support people who are experiencing homelessness.
We can all do better than this.
*In Massachusetts, “sectioning” someone is part of the Section 12 law, which allows an individual to be psychiatrically hospitalized against their will if deemed to be at imminent risk of harm to themselves or others.
This post is sixth 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.
Read Kay's post, fourth in the series on youth homelessness and resiliency.
Read Max's post, fifth in the series on youth homelessness and resiliency.
Learn about youth homelessness by listening to this t3 podcast: