As an adolescent, it is expected that the adults in your life will provide for you. It is written into our laws and our culture as a society that children are the responsibility of their guardians, and that those guardians will provide them with food, shelter and direction. Whose responsibility is it if the guardians of a child don’t take accountability or are unable to provide for their child? Many of these children become forgotten by the system or are not given the resources needed to become successful.
At the age of 14, I became homeless for the first time. This wasn’t an issue I had prepared myself to deal with; I knew my freshman year of high school would come with many changes, like relationship drama and friend group changes, but I never anticipated losing my home would be added to that list. I had lived in the same house for my entire life. I came home from school after the first week of my freshman year and quickly noticed a piece of paper taped to our door. It read, “EVICTION. 30 DAY NOTICE.” At the time, I didn’t even know my mother and I were struggling financially, let alone that we were no longer going to have a home. I felt so helpless and scared knowing that in just one month, I wouldn’t have anywhere to live.
Once our final day came, my mother and I said our goodbyes to what once was my childhood home. I shut the door behind me, and with that, I left behind 14 years of memories, most of my belongings and my own bed. My first night as an unhoused individual was spent at a family member’s house. None of our family members had the resources to take us in for the time being, but they were kind enough to allow us to bounce from one house to another. I would then collect empty pop cans and bottles, as well as any empty liquor bottles I could find, and bring them to Hy-Vee for money. I would then use this money to help feed my mom and I.
While homeless, I was still expected by my school to attend regularly and keep up on my academics. This wasn’t possible for me at the time. Since my mother and I had been staying with family members, we were living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which made it exponentially more difficult for me to find a ride to school in Omaha. At the time, my mom was so deep in her addictions that she was not able to provide me with reliable transportation. Being in this situation and knowing that there was little I could do, I brought the issue to my school. I told my dean and counselor the situation I was in, hoping that they would help to meet me in the middle. I still wanted to complete my assignments, I just was not able to be there every day, and sometimes not even every week. This did not go as I had hoped it would, though. The school decided expulsion was the best option, despite never having any issues other than truancy, and placed me at the alternative school. I felt like I was being forced to stand by and watch as my entire life fell apart, and being a child, there was little to nothing that I was able to do to advocate for myself. When I tried to support myself, the adults around me failed to help me.
I don’t write about this with the intention to evoke sadness or to receive sympathy, but to bring awareness to a much larger issue. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, there are currently over 4.2 million homeless youths in the United States. This means that one in thirty children will experience homelessness before the age of 18. Many of these children are unaccompanied by adults, struggle with mental health and suffer from issues with substance abuse. In Omaha, we only have access to four local homeless shelters, all of which are overcrowded and underfunded and have limited availability. It can also be challenging for an unhoused child to find a shelter that will take them in without a parent or guardian.
In order to resolve this issue, we as a society must first reframe how we see homeless individuals. Many people who are unhoused are born into it or are children with no other option. If you are interested in getting involved, you can do so by donating to local shelters and food pantries, donating clothes or working personally with a community’s homeless population.