I Will Say My Name is Beth…
I will say my name is Beth, although we all know that’s a story name. Most of my friends and I, at one time or another have used “other” names to protect the identity of ourselves and/or our families. You see, bad things happen when police or social workers get involved. Our families may not be the best, but they are part of us. Most of us know how to dress and talk so we won’t look homeless. Contrary to common thought, not all homeless people are veterans or those with mental illness who sleep in the park with their lives in plastic trash bags. There are many of us I will call “the invisible homeless”. We sleep under bridges, couch surf in friends’ houses until their parents kick us out, sleep in parks, etc. Some of us even manage to go to school when we don’t know where we will sleep that night, or where food will come from.
I’m willing to share some of my story because I want each of you, my readers, to realize how important and life changing programs like YouthHope, can be for kids like me.
I am eighteen years old. My dad has never been in my life. I wouldn’t know him if I passed him on the street. I often wonder how things would have been, if I would have had a father in my life. I have wished… but if wishes were horses…you know the saying.
My mom was super young when she had me. She was hooked on street life and drugs, and told me parenting was “too hard”. Many mornings she would mutter around in our motel room saying she “didn’t know what to do with me”. I was “in her way”, likely to “get her in trouble”, “another mouth to feed”, and she knew she just wasn’t “in a place to take care” of me. That was undoubtedly truth. Hard truth. The decision she made was to “give me away”. Those words to this day roll in my head like a merry-go-round – in my dreams and in my waking. She “gave me away”, “gave me away”, because she “loved me”. The person she gave me to “did the paperwork” and became my guardian so as she explained, she could “get money” for taking me in.
I had food on the table, and while house rules were excessive at times, I credit my guardian with teaching me the value of work and of taking school seriously. Because of her heavy-handed strictness, I learned to do hard work, show self-discipline, and commitment to my schooling, which were all gifts.
As time went on, for reasons I still don’t understand, the home became abusive. My guardian punished me for things that never happened. As I hit puberty she accused me of “sleeping around” and “using drugs”. “Just like your mom,” she would say. I won’t go into detail, but she did things to me to make me less attractive to boys. She hacked into my website at school and kept all my ID and tuition aide under her control. I seemed to be the focus of an anger that was both unpredictable, and irrational. She would hit me and scream stories to justify her anger. After one particularly bad encounter I felt my safety was compromised, that my guardian was beyond crazy. That one… particular… terrifying night… that is seared in my brain forever…. I grabbed my backpack, stuffed in a few belongings, and walked out into the night.
At first my biggest fear was of being found by my guardian and having to endure her rage. I hid in parks and slept in alleys, with my teddy bear and blanket, not knowing how to proceed.
I am small, and people say I’m cute, but alone on the streets all I felt was fear and anxiety. I knew I needed to stay invisible. Days passed and months flew by. As my fears lessened, I knew something had to change. Where to go, where to sleep, where to find food, who to trust and how to move forward, were all questions that seemed to lead into dead-end streets. I slept in Laundromats and tried to “clean up” in public bathrooms. I stole food and other personal supplies. I tried to apply for work. I lied on applications but when well-meaning managers asked for things like my resume’, or references, or letters of recommendation I was lost. I didn’t have a resume’. I had never worked. I didn’t know how to make a resume’, or have resources to do so. And I didn’t have a place to print it if I had one. Finally a fast food restaurant said they would hire me. I was ecstatic, until I heard them say I had to purchase black Docker pants and specific work shoes. I stood in the isle at Walmart eyeing the clothes and wondering if I could steal them without getting caught. Hopeless, I walked away. Life was impossible.
One night at the Laundromat a worn and tired looking old lady (she looked like a meth addict) said to me, “Go home kid. It’s too late for you to be out.” She gave me an up and down, “Where’s your family kid?” I broke my dazed and hungry reverie when she said, “If you don’t have no where else to go, there’s a house for run-aways by Sylvan Park. You should run over there. I hear they help kids. She was my angel out of Heaven.
Long story short, I found a short term safe house, with a staff that helped kids like me have a safe place to be, while we figured out how I could move forward. At that point in my life I was only a couple of months from turning 18. The staff told me about a housing and educational program for 18-24 year olds that gave kids like me safe but cheap housing if we would agree to go to a trade school or community college full time, and work part time. They had other support systems too but a safe house and school were the parts that caught my attention. I wanted to get back in school and I longed for a safe place to call home.
I joined that housing program and I am currently enrolled at Valley College and am finishing my first semester with a 4.0 GPA. I realize not everyone does that, but again, my guardian taught me a few good things. Either way it wouldn’t have happened with out a safe place to call home, my program director and resident assistant, the counselor I work with, my mentor, and the skill classes the housing program offers. Plus I’m loving my work at the Pizza Parlor and since I only have to pay $100 per month for my rent, I’m able to save enough money to support myself with basic needs while I go to school. It sounds like a fairy tale story, except for the part about not having a family. But then again, I guess some of us “inherit a family” and some of us “choose a family”. My current family is the YouthHope support staff, my housing director, and my housemates. So there you are. Thanks to YouthHope there is one less homeless kid on the streets, and one kid who just might “make it”.
By Dee Dee Schilt
The Beginning of Moving Forward…
Alex’s struggle with alcohol began at the young age of 13. His mother introduced him to a lifestyle of drinking, much like her own. His parents had been separated for as long as he can remember, and his mother would bring a string of boyfriends through the household during his entire upbringing. Due to this experience, Alex struggles with confiding or respecting male figures in his life, as the men he has known showed no care or concern for a positive relationship with Alex or contributed to a healthy upbringing.
Alex also struggled in school. He had trouble concentrating due to his hunger pains (as there was rarely food in the home), and he strug-gled understanding the school-work. Alex consequently dropped out of high school after 9th grade. Alex had visited us in and out of this time, but never quite shared much of his story.
Recently he began attending YouthHope more and more, and confided in us enough to share these pieces of his life. Alex confessed his struggles with alcohol and came to a place to accept he is an alcoholic. This step of awareness is huge for our youth, and shows their deep desire to change. It shows they are aware of where they are in life, but are not willing to accept it as all that they are or will become. Several of our youth struggle with this, to no fault of their own. They come from homes where this lifestyle is exhibited and encouraged, and there is no one in their life to tell them otherwise.
We are currently helping Alex to attend rehab and go through the process of quitting, healing, and reaching a stable place to move him forward. We love our dear Alex and are excited for his progress. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
An Issue of Pride…
Our new youth Eli, is one such youth who has been raised in a caring family (a novelty among our youth). He attends RHS and is very dedicated to his studies and involvement in the school’s football team. Eli wakes up very early every day to walk to school and arrive on time. He does not allow himself to be tardy. His father works fulltime at a minimum wage job and cannot drive him to school.
When asked about his needs, Eli very sheepishly admitted that his family sometimes doesn’t have enough food for his lunches, and so he often goes without. As we asked about starting the process of looking into a free lunch for him at school, he became afraid and ashamed and begged that we would not inform his parents of this request. “If they knew I asked for free meals for the school, they would be so upset! They don’t like taking help from other people.”
Eli’s family is filled with the pride of caring for themselves. This pride is so strong that they are unable to let others help them—even in finding food for their son. “We always have enough to buy one chicken, and we have that for the whole week,” Eli shared.
As Eli is one of our new youth, we are still getting to know his full story. In the meantime, he is coming to YouthHope and receiving a nutritious meal with us, and we are making all efforts to help him receive free lunch at school.
Sometimes, our youth’s struggle comes in the form of their parents’ pride. Every youth is different. Every issue is different. YouthHope addresses these differences and meets each youth with love and care.
Life on the Streets…
Though most of our youth do a very good job at hiding their homelessness, none had done so well as our dear youth Zander.
Zander found YouthHope nearly 3 months ago. He would come early, wait for YouthHope volunteers to arrive, and would help set up for our hot meal times. He is very sweet and considerate of others, and is always willing to give a helping hand. You would never think he has experienced the things he has in his young life.
Recently, Zander opened up and trusted us enough to share his story. What he shared was nothing short of tragic.
Zander had grown up between Beaumont, Yucaipa, Redlands, and a small town in the state of Minnesota. His mother was a drug-addict and had lost 3 of his half-siblings to Child Protective Services. Zander was raised by his father for most of his life—until he was 13 years old. His father was very physically abusive with Zander, and at 13 Zander ran away and left to live with his mother again. His mother and her boyfriend then introduced young Zander to the effects of Methamphetamine. Zander also became addicted and would help his mother deal on the streets. For 2 years, they lived on the streets, sleeping under bushes and freeways. Zander, only 13 years of age, had already experienced the worst ends of life. From being physically, sexually, and verbally abused in his early childhood, to living under a bush, to being introduced to meth at the age of 13…Zander had seen and done it all.
Zander’s mother decided it was time she moved her life forward and attend rehab. With his mother in rehab, Zander went to couch surfing with friends and living on the streets alone. Throughout this time Zander got into trouble with the police and was put in juvenile hall for 2 weeks. When Zander was released he continued to couch-surf until his mother found him. At this point, she was working hard to remain sober and began working at a fast food restaurant nearby – this was the first job she had ever had.
Together, Zander and his mother began working to move forward and be rid of the habits and tragedies of their past.
Zander’s experiences are such that you would never expect him to have lived through this when meeting him. He is quiet, silly, caring, and inclusive of everyone he meets. It is difficult to imagine the pains our youth face when they recall a memory of their past. Some such memories are inevitable and cannot be hidden for too long before they resurface and need to be dealt with. The abuse of Zander’s past has yet to be dealt with, but he knows that he has us to help him along the way when he is ready. Many of our youth carry this burden of their past, this self-consciousness of their lifestyles passed on to them by their parents. It is one of the most challenging things for our youth to share this past and these experiences with others—especially adults. Many of the adult-figures in their lives have bailed and abandoned them; or told them to “do better,” not realizing those words really sound like “you’re not good enough” to a youth’s ears. It takes a great deal of time and care for our youth to begin to trust our volunteers with their stories, but when they do, they realize that they are cared for and valued for who they are, with us.