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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Even When I Was Homeless I Stayed in School
Xavier Alvarez
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One day in the middle of my junior year, I came home from school and my brother gave me the news: “Mom’s kicking you out—again.”

“Your mother wants you to pack up all your stuff and leave,” my grandmother said.

Sometimes when my mother and I fought, she would get frustrated and tell me to leave. I’d couch-hop and stroll back home after a day or two when the heat had died down. But this time we hadn’t been arguing, so I was shocked and caught off guard.

“Why? What the hell did I do now?”

“I don’t know, she was just saying you always leave the house without telling her where you’re going or where you are,” my grandmother said.

I packed all my clothes as fast as I could. I had no money and no idea where I was going but I didn’t think about that; I’d finally had it with her. I walked down the eerie dark hallway to my mother’s room.

“Give me my Social Security card and my birth certificate,” I demanded.

“Where are you going?” my mother said.

“You’re kicking me out, why does it matter where I’m going? Don’t worry about it.”

Anger boiled up inside me. I was now homeless, a resident of the Seattle streets.

I’d Been Kicked Out Before

My relationship with my mom is full of contradictions. I can tell her anything, just like a best friend, but she fails as a mother. She always has to be right, so we get into conflicts when I challenge her, particularly when it comes to how she disciplines me. She often accuses me of undermining her.

The first time she kicked me out was the summer before 8th grade. She’d started arguing with me about something stupid and pulled out her world-famous line, which was usually just a threat: “If you don’t get your sh-t together, you’re going to live with your father.”

“See the way you are? And you wonder why Dad left you in the first place,” I responded while putting on my shoes by the door.

She went ballistic, pushing me against the wall, swinging wild. I tried to grab hold of her so I could move her out of my way, but by instinct I ducked a hook from her and punched her. That’s when she made up her mind to send me to my father’s in Florida. Her parting words to me: “You’re a piece of sh-t and always will be. You’re a good-for-nothing, and I don’t even know why I had kids.”

Staying with my father was another living hell. We clashed a lot. Once he pinned me against a wall and choked me until I lost consciousness. After nine months I moved back in with my mother.

Homeless in Seattle

The first night I was homeless in Seattle was the worst. I couldn’t reach anyone to find a place to stay, and I ended up falling asleep on a park bench. I felt like no one cared about me. The second night I slept on a walkway bridge over a freeway. It was a known spot where other homeless people stayed.

On the third day, my friend Brian was driving down the highway and saw me walking. He stopped.

“Yo, where you headed and what’s with all the bags?” he asked.

“I don’t know where I’m going. My mom kicked me out the crib, so I’m wandering.”

“I can let you sleep in my car. I’m sorry, it’s the best I can do.”

I was afraid my homelessness would never end.

For the next two weeks I didn’t go to school unless I was staying with a friend for more than one night and could shower. Before my mom kicked me out, my attendance had been near-perfect and I was getting good grades. I was popular at school and close with a lot of my teachers.

But now, most days I just wandered the streets looking for spots that seemed safe enough to sleep for the night. I didn’t have much, but I was afraid of getting robbed.

The nights felt arctic and cruel. Fortunately, Brian, who let me sleep in his car, bought me some new clothes and shoes. I did not have a coat. I stole food from stores and gas stations. I’d go into a coffee shop, scope out people’s plates and wait for them to leave. Before any waiters noticed, I’d walk off with their scraps.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I refused to dig in dumpsters and trash cans; it was too disgusting. I guess I just hadn’t hit that level of desperation yet.

I eventually got hold of a friend and started spending a few nights a week at his house, where I was able to shower. When I stayed with him, I went to school. People there gradually began to notice that my persona had changed. Before, I’d thought of myself as the soul of the building; I brought an upbeat, positive energy as I strolled through the halls. I conversed with just about anyone and spread good vibes.

But now depression and stress weighed too heavily on me. I had little patience, and I tolerated a lot less crap from people. I wasn’t as entertaining. I had no drive. Occasionally teachers and friends would ask me if I was OK. But I was too ashamed to speak freely about my situation. It’s difficult feeling like your own family wants nothing to do with you.

School Is My Escape

I was only able to stay with my friend for a couple weeks. I hated sleeping all over the city, on concrete or in uncomfortable positions on benches or against walls. I hated having to dwell inside the same dirty skin for days or weeks. The shame was slowly killing me inside.

I realized how lost I’d become when I started relishing a shower as if I’d die without it. Still, I had no intention of running back to Mommy after she had put me out.

image by YC-Art Dept

The days I could shower and go to school were an escape; I could feel normal during those hours. On the other days I just walked the streets on the endless journey to nowhere.

No Shelter for Me

In March, I met with my counselor to see if I’d be able to graduate on time since I’d been absent most of the year.

“Xavier, you’ve never failed a class before. How did this happen?” she asked.

“Is there anything I can do? What if I switch to an alternative school?” I asked, avoiding her question.

“Is there something going on in your personal life that I should know about?”

My heart sank. I didn’t want to get my mother in trouble. I had other siblings who were dependent on her, and I didn’t want to risk the possibility of them being taken from her.

“I can’t help you if you aren’t honest with me,” my counselor said. “You have so much talent. It’d be a shame if it all goes to waste.”

Once she agreed to keep our conversation private, I told her my mother had kicked me out and I’d been homeless since.

She offered to call a shelter for me, but it had strict rules and I didn’t want to follow them, so I said no. She gave me a warm sweater and food, and encouraged me to stay enrolled in school.

First Priority: My Education

Not long after, a friend of mine spoke to his parents about my situation and they agreed to take me in.

Whenever I had some shelter for more than a day or two, it was a priority for me to go to school. I felt like I had to take advantage of any stability I had. I knew the school had resources, and getting an education was a powerful tool.

I lived with my friend for about a month and it was lots of fun. His parents fell in love with me, treating me like one of their own. Then after three months of no contact, my mother told me to come home. I jumped at the chance.

Why? Because my mom wasn’t all bad, all the time. I also missed my brother, who is my ride or die. We had each other’s back.

Back at Home, Then Out Again

But the arguing started again not long after I came back. Whenever my mother was in a bad mood, she’d come at me, saying I didn’t do anything to help her or to better my life.

This made me feel like nothing was ever going to change, and I wanted an escape. I started taking drugs and even selling them. I looked to partying as a way to avoid the sad life I was living. I felt bad that my younger siblings looked up to me, and instead I was a horrible influence.

By the end of April, my mother kicked me out again. I don’t remember why. However, this time I was prepared, and I moved in with two friends.

I had been living with them for about two months when I left a party one night to smoke weed. A gang surrounded me and knocked me to the ground. My friends ran off. I fought back as hard as I could until strangers broke it up, and an acquaintance ran up with a bat telling me to get in his car.

A New Life in New York

The next day the school called
my mom after teachers noticed bruises on my face, down to my neck and on my arms. When she picked me up, she seemed oblivious to the fact that I was homeless. “Why did this happen? Where were you? Who did this to you?” she asked.

I answered all her questions as she drove to the hospital so I could get checked for further injuries. Luckily I was just bruised. I asked her to take me back to my friend’s place. She didn’t offer to bring me home, and I didn’t ask.

The next day she called and said my aunt in New York wanted to talk.

“Xavier, your mother told me everything that’s been happening,” my aunt said on the phone. “I think you should move in with me and get out of that environment. It’s no good for you.”

So my mother, who had put me in this desperate situation in the first place, was ultimately the one who helped get me out of it.

I’ve been living in the Bronx with my aunt for almost a year now. She provides stability so I can focus on myself. I like my school and excel there. While most seniors already have most of their requirements done, I have a full course load and have to work hard, but I will graduate on time. I never imagined myself writing for a magazine and visiting colleges. Although I want to get a job and work immediately following graduation, I also plan to attend college.

I feel proud of myself for sticking with school during those many times it would have been easier to quit. If I had done that, I would have taken away my own chance at success and only defeated myself.


Homeless in High School

More than 111,500 students in New York City public schools were homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. There are numerous reasons why teens end up homeless. Like in Xavier’s case, it can be due to a strained relationship with a parent. According to the latest figures from Safe Horizon, a victim-assistance nonprofit organization, 34% of youth cite fighting frequently with parents and 31% cite being kicked out of home as reasons for being homeless.

Kids may also run away after years of physical and sexual abuse, or get kicked out because the family is intolerant of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, 44% of unstably housed and homeless youth surveyed by the New York City mayor’s office identified as LGBTQ.

If you are a homeless youth, Safe Horizon may be able to provide you with shelter. Contact:
safehorizon.org
800-708-6600

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(NYC-2018-09-14)

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