Hidden Homelessness: For a Student Experiencing Homelessness, The Power of a Caring Educator Can Make All the Difference [Jahnee’s Story]

This story originally appeared on HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education.

Hidden Homelessness: Why child, youth, and family homelessness is the crisis we cannot ignore is a series developed by SchoolHouse Connection featuring stories and voices that highlight the long-term impacts of child, youth, and family homelessness. From this first-person storytelling, we learn the ways homelessness underlies and intersects with other critical issues and therefore why this crisis requires specific, urgent, meaningful action from policymakers.

In this essay, SchoolHouse Connection Youth Scholar Jahnee S. bravely speaks to the impact her experiences of homelessness throughout her youth have had on her mental health.. But like so many youth who experience homelessness, Jahnee found resilience at school, where she was provided the academic, mental, and emotional support to cope, learn, and succeed long-term. Jahnee’s story reminds us that we must prioritize solutions for child, youth, and family homelessness crisis, centered on the one home all children and youth have in common: school.

___

I was 8 years old when I first experienced homelessness. Homelessness then became a struggle that my family and I couldn’t escape. I experienced standing in the snow, hoping my family and I had a place to sleep on a church floor; how packed and unsanitary emergency shelters are, as I got lice within two days of staying there; how “The Florida Project” brought me flashbacks to the many months my family lived in motels, and how I viewed peers with “the basic necessities” with such envy. Constantly moving and being disappointed led me to become extremely detached and avoid relationships of any kind out of fear of abandonment. Eight years later, at 16 years old, I was still experiencing homelessness. Though homelessness was not new to me, this experience as a 16-year-old was the most difficult because I was on my own without a family.

I began to struggle significantly with depression, and I often felt unloved and unworthy. I remember my mantra echoing in my head, “If everyone I ever loved left me alone, why should I care about my future?” My deteriorating mental health made me question everything about high school and if I would ever be able to walk across that stage. In October 2016, I became truant. I was part of the 87% of teens that experience homelessness and drop out of high school.

I began to struggle significantly with depression, and I often felt unloved and unworthy. I remember my mantra echoing in my head, “If everyone I ever loved left me alone, why should I care about my future?”

I was part of the 87% of teens that experience homelessness and drop out of high school.

It was there in that small apartment that I recognized the strength and resilience I had acquired from my numerous homeless experiences. I learned the importance of my narrative and how I could impact future generations that had similar experiences of homelessness. I dealt with the flaws of the public school system when it came to keeping homeless youth in school and I started looking into a career in social work. When my mental health was stable, I made the decision to enroll back in school as a freshman to ensure that my actions would break the cycle of poverty that encompassed me and my family.

When my mental health was stable, I made the decision to enroll back in school as a freshman to ensure that my actions would break the cycle of poverty that encompassed me and my family.

Unfortunately in May of my sophomore year, I felt a sense of déjà vu. My mother was once again hospitalized, we all were displaced, my brother moved away, and I moved in temporarily with a friend. Even though this experience was jarring and traumatizing, I reacted much differently than I would have two years ago. I accepted and understood the circumstances and coped by calling my mother and brother every single day. To this day, I am still an “Unaccompanied Homeless Youth,” and unfortunately, this year I lost my mother. Though I am doing the best I can, I still struggle with feeling alone as I navigate life, school, and personal struggles.

I am still experiencing homelessness. I still feel the effects of years of complex trauma, mental health struggles, and financial barriers.

Though I have made the most of my circumstances, I am still experiencing homelessness. I still feel the effects of years of complex trauma, mental health struggles, and financial barriers as I work to afford college. Throughout these struggles, school continues to be a critical support for me. I am thankful for my school system, Project UP-START (the McKinney-Vento Program at my school), SchoolHouse Connection, and my debate coach Ms. Charles for their unending support. Because of them and my perseverance, I will be walking across the stage on June 7th as a high school graduate and attending college in the fall. I would say that if you’re reading this and you work with young people experiencing homelessness, know that what you do matters. By showing empathy and providing a safe space for students experiencing homelessness to learn and have their basic needs met, you can help ensure that they too can pursue their goals and find a way out of an often unbreakable cycle of homelessness.

Check out the other stories:

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
SchoolHouse in Session

This is hub of expertise and stories to drive solutions around children, youth, and family homelessness. It is a project of SchoolHouse Connection.