Moving Around

Understanding the Youth Homelessness Epidemic

We drive past them everyday, but what is the story behind homelessness?

Jagguidt Ramirez

We drive past them everyday, but what is the story behind homelessness?

Bianca Barretto and Sean McCray

When people think of a traditional high school experience, they think of Friday night football games, school dances, pep rallies and prom. Wondering how you’re going to get your next meal, where you’re going to have your next shower, or how you’re going to relieve from a stressful day of school with no roof to be under is not a common dilemma students face, and never does the idea of being homeless EVER cross the mind of an average high schooler. While the commonality of being homeless in high school or being in foster care isn’t something that’s often shared between students, youth homelessness is still a scary reality for many kids our own age.

Homelessness is an issue that seems to only continue to grow as shown with 552,830 people being homeless on the same night back in 2018, according to a survey from conducted by whitehouse.gov. Unfortunately of those homeless, around 7% were actually youth ages 25 and under (whitehouse.gov). And homelessness in youth is only an extremity of a terrible situation. According to kids-alliance.org, 30,000 children are currently in the foster care system in Los Angeles alone, with 1,400 of those children still awaiting adoptive families. On top of that, being in the foster care system has tremendous effects on a child’s education, leaving only 58% of foster care children to graduate highschool and a mere 3% to graduate college on a national scale (kids-alliance.org)

Mr. Al Chin, who works directly with LAUSD, deals with the population of Rancho students who happen to be homeless or in foster care.

“Just for definitions, foster youth are any youth with an open case with the DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] and by definition it [homelessness] has a much broader definition,” said Chin.

According to Mr. Al Chin, homelessness isn’t just living on the streets or in a non-traditional home. Homelessness takes on many shapes, forms, and situations; even living with relatives as, opposed to your legal guardians, can still be considered “homeless.”

“I never realized it, but when I was growing up I moved in with my uncle who took care of his brother, mother, father, and later my mother and I. The fact that we were quote-on-quote today “homeless” never dawned on us. Most people don’t even think about it because it’s your family, especially people of color; I never would have called myself homeless,” said Chin.

Being placed within a foster care system or being homeless puts these students at a vast disadvantage when compared to the traditional high school student. Unfortunately, the former may lack many things we take for granted such as the resources to thrive in and outside of school, a support group, or even something as basic as privacy. The issues non-settled students face aren’t just trying to maintain balancing of stress at school like many students, but also the added stress of their life outside of school they have to undertake.

“Think about all the resources you have at home. When you put yourself in the role of a homeless person, where do you go at night to plug in your computer and do your homework? Where do you go for a break? You go home and you can relax, you can watch tv, you can chill out and do whatever right…They’re facing a lot more challenges because of the instability in their life. It’s the personal time you’re missing [and] the down time you need to recover from a hard day at school, but none of that is there for you,” said Chin.

Even if you want to find time to talk privately with your family, who is your family if you’re a foster? Who is your family if you have no place to go?”

— Al Chin

Homelessness and being in foster care don’t only contribute to an immense educational disadvantage, but obviously manifest into emotional hardships for students in those situations. For most homeless and non-settled students, shame becomes one of the biggest burdens they’ll ever face. In most cases homeless youth are too scared or embarrassed to confide in friends about their struggle, in turn place them in a constant cycle of never reaching out for help thus prolonging the duration of their homelessness or time within the foster care system.

“When you’re homeless between six months to three years means the longer you’re homeless, the more you’re struggling. Now fortunately for our youth it isn’t a long time period, but even a short time period…hampers people’s ability. Would you want people to know you are homeless or a foster,” said Chin.

While the idea of being homeless or living in a non-traditional home is a fear a lot of us have, there’s hope in knowing there are resources for homeless and struggling youth.

“The stereotype is that the foster and homeless are lazy, argumentative, and unwilling to work with the system but that can be true for anyone; put yourself in their shoes and picture yourself being in that situation….There are resources out there and people like myself at schools and within the community,” said Chin.

Nothing can take away from the ignorant misconceptions or the harsh realities surrounding homelessness. But even in times of hardship, students facing unconventional living situations do have people to confide in and resources to take advantage of, in order to get back up on their feet.

“If you find yourself in a homeless situation or foster situation, you have to put aside your pride a little bit and just reach out and ask for help,” concluded Chin.

While most students may feel disconnected to the idea of being homeless because they’re not the ones facing the hardship, some familiar faces at Rancho have gone through the experience despite how irregular the circumstances may be.

Senior, Nathaniel Graham, is one of the few students here at Rancho who happens to face this irregular circumstance. He had a choice to either go into the foster care system or be taken in by an apathetic aunt.

“My home life is not that great. I live with someone who doesn’t care about me and it has been this way for the past four years,” said Graham.

Graham has lived with his aunt since he was nine, but by 2016 his aunt began to treat him differently because he was “of age” and began to receive money, which only caused her to take a less active role in his life. This began to take a toll on Graham as he started to constantly feel stressed, depressed, and angry because of his situation up until today.

“I started receiving money about three years ago only because I spoke of my situation to someone and they mentioned me being able to get money. So I pay for things on my own, but I don’t have any support at home and my living situation can change whenever. Whenever I come here I feel happier because I get to see the people I can call my real family,” said Graham.

The uncertainty he feels at home transfers over into his everyday life and makes him feel as if he is lacking something other students tend to have; people they can confide in at home and a private, safe space. Fortunately, Graham’s peace is provided in the form of school. Students tend to view school as a tribulation, but for Graham it is a haven where he can have some downtime and seek assistance.

“I actually know about the resources the school offers. Ms.Esquivas, Ms.Thompson, Mr.Gomez, Ms.Maddox, and Ms.Lew are a few of the many staff members I got to. They help and support me academically, emotionally, and even when it comes to meals; I’m able to go to them and talk about my problems,” said Graham.

Although Graham said the situation at home hasn’t improved, he believes that since 2016 his grades have improved and by overcoming everything he has been through he learned how to become a better person.

By the age of 17, math teacher, Mr. Blazer had been kicked out of his family home and lived out of his car for four days before seeking the support of a close friend. Describing his situation as a falling out with his single mother’s restrictions, and the complications it created with teenage Blazer’s eagerness to make his own life decisions, his experience on his own exemplifies a great deal of struggle. And even though Mr. Blazer had only been living on his own for a short duration of time, he still had encountered a lot of the difficulties and shame most homeless youth resonate with, and struggled with the internal battle of reaching out for help.

“Mostly it [the biggest struggle] was the embarrassment of ‘I don’t have a place to live in anymore even though I have such a big family’ because I have HUGE family and I didn’t even reach out to go stay at my Tia’s. I didn’t even know I can reach out to something that wasn’t family,” said Blazer.

During the time spent on his own, Blazer struggled with adjusting to not having the resources he typically would’ve had in the safety of his own home. As he continued to live in just his car, simple things like having a nice shower and taking care of yourself became a scarce resource for the 17 year old.

“The hardest part was the cleaning. Just being able to groom yourself, like taking a shower and getting dressed. Getting dressed soon became no problem because my clothes were already there but taking a shaower, that was the problem, being able to get up in the middle of the night to go to a restroom,” said Blazer.

Mr. Blazer’s adaptation to finding resources from him to use while on his own wqasn;t the only struggle he faced. His homelessness soon turned into a block for his mental health. Although Blazer feels that his departure from home came partially from a place where he had outgrown the restrictions of a single parent household and was ready to make his own decisions, living in a non-traditional home setting took an immense toll on his well being.

“I remember being very depressed. I remember also just struggling with my own sexual identity and dealing with if I can’t even talk to my mom about not having a party, how am I going to talk about the sexual identity issues. That depression led me to trying to take my life a couple of times. When I came out of that, I just decided this is not the way I want my life to be so I got into college and just made it my priority. Even though I had three jobs [and was in an abusive relationship] I couldn’t process any of it because I had a goal in mind.”

Even though Blazer had struggled from the harsh reality of homelessness at a young age, it has undeniably shaped the person he is, and Blazer can even look back to being grateful for some of the resources he had (though not much) while he was on his own. There is no undermining the struggle he faced while homeless, but having things like his car and working three jobs in high school only propelled his life into the direction he wanted to take his life in, despite not necessarily exploiting ALL the resources potentially available. While one could typically find themselves in a place of regret for not reaching out, Blazer looks at his past experiences as being able to do the best that he could with what he had.

“It only gets better if you make it better. Dedicate yourself to something, give yourself a goal and realize that whatever you do is to achieve that goal.And if its not getting you to that goal, think of it again like you can reset or restart. Failing a class doesn’t make you failure. Quitting something doesn’t necessarily mean your a quitter, it just means you quit THAT. Reset, Restart. Where is it you want to go? Reset, Restart,” concluded Blazer.

Statistics on youth homelessness.