The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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What Helped Me When I Was Homeless
Focus on school, find a haven, rely on friends
YCteen staff

If you have ever been among the estimated 3,800 young people reported homeless each night in New York City, we hope just reading that number makes you feel less alone. In fact, almost 80,000 students lived in temporary housing at some point in 2012-2013.

Many different factors contribute to homelessness. “The increase in wages isn’t keeping up with the cost of housing, so many families can’t afford the rent and get evicted for nonpayment,” says Dona Anderson, senior public affairs officer of the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness. “Another common reason teens end up homeless is family conflict. Maybe a parent kicks an LGBTQ youth out of the house because he doesn’t accept his sexual orientation. Or a teen runs away to escape domestic violence.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is making affordable housing a priority, which should help. His plan is to build 80,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. He also plans to preserve another 120,000 units, which means that he wants to try to stop rents from being raised in those units so they stay affordable.

Although homelessness is often out of your control, Anderson says a significant step teens can take to prevent it is to stay in school so you have a better chance of affording stable housing when you become an adult. The New York City Department of Education’s latest reported graduation rate is 64%. “The 36% of students who drop out will be less likely to support themselves,” says Anderson. What’s more, she says, school programs and teachers, counselors, and coaches are rich sources of stability and support. They may not be able to find housing for you or your family, but they may know how to connect you to programs that can.

The details of teen homelessness are as varied as the young people who experience it. We spoke to three teens who been homeless recently. Here, they share their stories and offer advice to those who may find themselves in unstable living arrangements.

I Raised My Grades and My Self-Esteem

Jasmine Barclay, 19, Medgar Evers College
As told to YCteen staff

My dad was incarcerated in the summer before my sophomore year so I was living with my grandmother. (My mom had lost her parental rights when I was a baby. The story I was told was that she left me alone in a shelter and someone called the police. At the time she had a drug addiction.) One day my grandmother kicked me out for not putting clothes in the washing machine. I was only 14 years old. Now I know her kicking me out is actually neglect.

For the next three years I couch-surfed. I was never on the street or in a shelter, but I didn’t have a home that was mine.

On a typical day I would wake up wherever I was, shower, go to school, and after school I would stay out until night time. I would mostly go to DCTV, a video production company where I was a participant in their youth program, or basketball practice and games. I waited until it was time to go to sleep again to return to wherever I was staying that week. I felt like I was an imposition; even though friends and family let me stay, no one made me feel welcome. Some just gave me negative vibes while others actually made it clear I was imposing.

I come from a huge family of eight aunts and uncles but nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of being my guardian. They said it was either a financial burden or they didn’t have the space. But I think that’s ridiculous. If anybody in my life needed help, I would not make excuses like that; we’d get through it together. I’m just a kid; I only take up so much space.

When my dad first got incarcerated, I was barely passing in school but when my grandmother kicked me out, I did the opposite of what a lot of people do under stress—I worked harder because I knew the only way I could get out of this situation was to be well educated. Also, my dad had high hopes for me and I didn’t want to let him down. In 11th grade I got three “most-improved” awards. And that’s something I took pride in.

Usually it was hard to find a quiet place wherever I was staying or I was just too upset and couldn’t focus on my homework. Fortunately I was able to do most of it at DCTV, but sometimes I would do it on the bus and the train.

My advice to anyone who is homeless is to know that there’s nothing better than getting a good report card when you’re going through all this. It’s such a boost to your confidence.

Don’t be discouraged; it helps to let your guidance counselor know your circumstances. Then teachers can cut you some slack like letting you hand-write a paper if you don’t have access to a computer. There’s no shame in it; your situation is not your fault.

After being homeless for three and a half years, my father was released from jail and we’ve been living together in an apartment in Queens ever since. I’m a college junior studying social work now. I’m also working for DCTV as a film instructor to high school students while I work on my own film about children of incarcerated parents.

I look back at that time of my life as something that shaped my work ethic and my need to help others in similar situations. I feel it is my duty to help, because if not, why did I go through it?

The Y Was a Haven

Jordan Taylor, 14, Pathway Preparatory School
As told to YCteen staff

Last year my mom and I were living in a basement apartment in Queens. Because there was a broken pipe that the landlord wouldn’t fix, there was a lot of flooding, not just water but sewage and mud. Finally the flooding was so bad it destroyed everything and we had to move. (Even though my mom paid the rent every month, she thinks the landlord did this on purpose to get us to move out.)

We lived in a motel for a week before my mom got us into the Belt Park Family Shelter, which had a playground and reminded me of a school. You had to sign in and out. It was night when we arrived, so everybody was sleeping. It looked clean, but as the days passed it got dirty because people didn’t clean up after themselves.

I thought the shelter would be like what I saw on TV: bunk beds all in one room, an open area with everyone watching you. I was glad to see that it wasn’t like that. Me and my mom were in a room with two beds, a bathroom, and a small kitchen. My mom’s a dietitian at my school and she’s a great cook, so she was glad we had a kitchen. The only thing we did not have was a freezer.

I wanted to make friends with some of the kids, but then I changed my mind because they were rude to me. Fortunately our social worker told my mom about an after school program at a YMCA nearby and I joined.

Joining that program was the one good thing that came out of being homeless. Besides using the facility, there is after-school help, additional arts and sports programs, and trips such as college tours and basketball games.

My grades improved as a result. Sometimes they would quiz us and it would make me want to study more. That also boosted my confidence. I had more time to do my homework, and the YMCA had computers and printers which I hadn’t ever had.

Nine months after we moved into the shelter, my mom got a nice apartment in Jamaica so we could move out. I continue to spend a lot of time at the Y.

My advice to anyone who ends up in a shelter is to make the best of it by trying to improve yourself, and find things to do that make you happy. Also rely on your friends for support. There were a lot of people at the shelter who were rude to us and used a lot of profanity. I didn’t feel safe there. Once I was with my friends and thinking about living there and it made me cry. They were understanding and told me if they could they would have invited me to stay with them. Having good friends helps a lot.

I Learned There Are People Who Care About Me

Tyler Smith, 19, Graduated from Bedford Academy HS in 2014
As told to YCteen staff

When my grandmother passed away my mom couldn’t afford to pay the rent on her own. Five years ago, we were kicked out of our apartment. We’ve lived in shelters ever since.

My mom is hard of hearing so she’s not able to work. She gets government assistance but it’s not enough to pay for an apartment.

Poor nutrition in shelters is a big issue for me and my family. The only rules they seem to follow are that the meal is hot, and the servers wear gloves and hairnets, though sometimes they don’t even do that. Some of the food they give us has bugs in it, hair, dirt, or mold. My mom tries to scrape together some coins to get us fresher food.

I feel like I was luckier than other kids I knew at the shelter because I got into S.I.M.B.A (Safe In My Brother’s Arms), a program funded by the Board of Education that assists homeless teenage boys living in shelters who want to go to college. (See box.) S.I.M.B.A. provides kids with basics like tutoring and supplies, such as notebooks and dictionaries. I’d go there to do schoolwork. It made it OK that I didn’t have my own bedroom because I could concentrate there. They even hooked me up with Habitat for Humanity, a program that took me to North Carolina to help build a house for somebody else who was homeless. I felt honored.

It was hard to do my best in school. Although I tried hard, my GPA never hit an 80. My high school was big on surprise quizzes and during the first two years I missed a lot of school and a lot of those quizzes—because I was helping my family members and getting stuff from my old apartment that was in storage. It was also difficult for me because I wasn’t physically healthy and didn’t have warm enough clothes. I would be sore, my body would ache, and I would fall asleep in classes.

I had a Spanish teacher who supported me a lot. Sometimes when I was hungry or sleepy, she’d buy me coffee or give me $20 to get something to eat.

Even though I was struggling in school, S.I.M.B.A. kept me focused on college. Through them I took a course for college credit and visited over seven campuses. I recently graduated from high school and I plan to enroll at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and major in graphic design or psychology.

Of course being homeless makes me feel alienated, but going to S.I.M.B.A. helped me feel more connected and supported. There are other good programs for teenagers that help you improve your situation rather than feeling sad or becoming jaded.

And nothing beats a good friend. My friend Neicee tells me that someday I’ll have a big apartment. She helps me see a brighter future. I feel like there are a lot of people who care about me. After a lot of legwork, my family and I just received government assistance to pay rent. We are currently apartment hunting. Once that’s settled, I can focus on college.

Help for Homeless Teens

S.I.M.B.A. is a Brooklyn-based youth empowerment program for boys in temporary housing. There is also a sister program for girls, A.S.E.T. (All Sisters Evolving Together). Some of their offerings include college and SAT prep, and sports and performance programs. Contact Wayne Harris to learn more at: 718-935-3562, or at Here are contacts for similar Department of Education-based programs throughout New York City:

Stephanie Dyer

Brooklyn South
Edonine Castor

Cecilio Diaz

Stephanie Goldstein

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