Hidden Homelessness: Youth Voices — Sheltered or Unsheltered, Homeless is Homeless. [Eric’s Story]

Hidden Homelessness: Youth Voices is a youth storytelling series developed by SchoolHouse Connection that highlights the often overlooked and unseen experiences that define child and youth homelessness. Under the education subtitle of federal law (the McKinney-Vento Act), the definition of homelessness includes common situations for families and youth experiencing homelessness, including staying in abandoned buildings and staying temporarily with others — both of which are exemplified in this essay.

Youth experiencing homelessness in these conditions face comparable trauma and challenges as those who live unsheltered, but are often harder to identify and are either not considered to be homeless or not prioritized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), thus making them unable to obtain homelessness assistance through HUD.

Hidden Homelessness: Youth Voices seeks to raise awareness of these realities of homelessness experienced by youth across the nation.

This is Eric’s story.

My name is Eric and from a young age I had to fight for my basic needs. When I was 9, I was living with my biological mom and we were living in government housing. She was always late on rent and her boyfriend would constantly damage the apartment. So, after a month of not paying the bills, we were evicted. Not knowing where to go the day we were evicted, my mother and I slept in her car for the night. This was scary and overwhelming, because I didn’t know where we were going to live. That next day she began looking for a place we could temporarily stay, while she looked for a long-term solution. While I was at school she looked around asking everyone she knew if we could stay with them. These people ranged from “her plugs” (people who sold her drugs) to “her buyers” (people who bought drugs from her).

Later that night, she found a house to squat in. The house belonged to one of her “plugs.” Now to get an understanding of this house, you have to understand what type of person used to live in this house. This person was a heroin user and seller. He was also a small hoarder, who would never clean and would always have people over at the house using drugs. He was eventually kicked out of the house and the original owner didn’t fix up the place. So, there I was, nine years old, living in a house that reeked of drugs, urine, and filled with trash. To make it worse, there was no running water, electricity, or gas. I understood clearly where I was and how I was living for that time.

My mother tried to make the best out of our situation, but you can’t make the best out of a drug house that’s been abandoned. My mom didn’t want my school to become suspicious, so she would make me go to the gas station across the street and brush my teeth and do a quick wash-up. While I was doing that, she would use her food stamps to buy the essentials, such as bread, meat, and cheese. Living like that sucked.

Going to school, I was always nervous that a teacher might think I was dirty or trying to eat more at lunch, and would contact child protective services. I did my best to hide what was going on. While it wasn’t easy, I managed, and life went on like that for a while: squatting in the house, constantly going to the gas station to use the bathroom and clean myself, and my mom buying gas station food. Some nights she couldn’t even buy food because she would have to sell her food stamps for gas for her car or to “re-up” on her drugs. Because of this, I would try to always eat way more than I was supposed to at lunch. I did this to try to help with not being able to eat at night. Some days this worked, some days it didn’t.

After living like this for a while, my grandparents found out about our situation and they came to get me and take me to their home, while my mom figured out what to do. Even though I’m thankful for my grandfather, it was never easy staying with my grandparents. I constantly had to deal with emotional and mental abuse from my grandmother. She would do this because she hated my mother and I resembled my mother and sometimes acted like her too. Matter of fact, if I had to think about it, I would say she hated the thought of my mother. The only reason why I was even taken in by them was because of my grandfather.

Eventually, I moved out on my own and cut my mother out of my life, because she never figured out how to escape the life I was raised in. While I’m thankful for this new phase of life, I grieve for the younger me brushing his teeth in the gas station bathroom. That time of my life is over, but it still impacts me to this day. Looking back, I had various physical roofs over my head while I was experiencing homelessness, but the instability, lack of resources, trauma, and abuse I faced under those roofs at times made it worse than not having one at all. With that said, I am finding my way and I think that I’m doing a good job of it. In 2020, I started college as a first-generation college student and my ultimate goal is to attend culinary school. For almost a year now, I have lived in my own apartment and I work full-time. Since I’ve moved into my apartment, I have felt safe; I have running water, electricity, gas, and food. I have support from the amazing people at SchoolHouse Connection, and from the support system I’ve built around me. Without them I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in right now.

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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.