Becoming homeless as a youth is not a choice but a result. The result of many different events, people, and places. It is a process. The aggregate of our joys and sufferings. Every beating by a parent, every touch by an uncle, a stranger, every punch by a bully, a friend, every word, every laugh and mockery, every lonesome moment, every death of a loved one, led us here to this point.
It takes many steps to get here. It takes more steps to survive here, to get food, to find shelter and warmth. It takes even more steps to escape, to get a stable job and housing, to find people that care about you, to build meaningful and lasting relationships, and to move forward in life.
There are a number of reasons a youth may end up on the streets, some of which can be complex to understand. But, one thing I think we can all agree on is that being a homeless youth is hard. Think about how it feels to sleep outside or bounce from shelter to shelter, to walk and travel miles every day to get food, and to not have a family or anyone that cares about your wellbeing. Think about how difficult it must be to progress in life when you have to work for what most youth don’t even have to worry about. You know, things like a family, friends, a warm meal, or a comfortable bed. No one would choose to be in that position.
It is not a choice, nor is it an accident; it is the result of an accident of birth to the wrong family, wrong parents, wrong race, wrong neighborhood, wrong body, wrong sexual and gender identity. These are the factors that make a youth more likely to be subjected to issues that impact their family relationships, level of education, mental and physical health, social competence, and life skills. And as a result, they are more likely to become unstable.
I know and understand this, because I am a homeless youth myself. I understand the underlying causes of my situation. I understand what it takes to progress toward stability and independence, although this does not make the process any less difficult. Because this isn’t easy work, and it is not work I can do on my own. Let’s be honest, for the people that have grown into competent adults, it has taken years of experiences, learning, some mistakes, but also love and family support to be where they are. And for us homeless youth that did not have any of this, we are at a disadvantage and have to, in a way, try to relive some of our lives to catch up with everyone else.
I, for one, am now linked to certain people and resources I deem valuable in my effort to get on my feet. I am now eating meals more regularly than I have in a very long time. I am now also eating literally the best food I have had in my entire life. Oddly, this puts me in a tough position. Because I want to continue my journey toward independence. I want to get to a point where I don’t need to rely on meal programs to have food to eat. But I, and many other youths I know, are afraid of failure and its consequences. What if, in my attempt to make the leap into independence, I once again become homeless? What if, once again, I am hungry? These questions create a mental burden that we carry with us. I truly believe I will be successful. But I also have nagging doubts that are grounded in painful experiences.
This is my reality and one that I share with other homeless youth. I doubt anyone would choose to be here; to experience the loneliness, hunger, and sleeplessness that we do. For some of us, living on the streets is a step above what we are used to. But hopefully, with the support of our community, we won’t get stuck on the streets or in transitional programs, but keep taking steps closer towards our possible bright futures.