Young and Homeless: My Experience

My name is Andrew, I am 23 years old.

When I was 21 years old, I was living in a DCF group home in the South End of Boston. I had been living there for a few years, and had been growing more and more frustrated with my situation. I didn’t have a lot of freedom to have friends and to do stuff that I felt other 21 year olds were doing. I couldn’t even have my cell phone when I was in the house. I also knew that my time in DCF was coming to an end, and maybe I was also scared and nervous about what was going to happen next since we had done little to no planning. But at the time I mostly felt frustrated and that I wanted my freedom. So I told the program director that I was leaving.

He tried to get me not to leave – he pointed out that I didn’t have any plan as to where I would go, or how I would get food, or even the kind of people I would associate with. Staff tried to tell me what things would be like on the streets or in the shelters, but it didn’t really sink in. Or didn’t sink in enough to make me change my mind. I decided to leave anyway.

So one night I just packed up my bag – I put in a blanket, two changes of clothes, my cell phone, and my bank card and walked out the door. I made some phone calls to people I knew from work to see if I could stay with them – but couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I walked toward Boston Medical Center, where there are a lot of homeless people that hang out. Not knowing what to do, I walked over there and tried to make connections to figure out where I could stay.

Some of the people I met were clearly drug users and I tried to stay clear of them. I found a girl who told me she was staying in a U-haul truck and said I could stay with her. We went to where she stashed her blankets and bags, walked to the U-haul parking lot, looked around to make sure there was no one else around, found a truck that wasn’t locked,  hopped into the back of a truck. We set our phone alarms for 6am so we could get out before anyone found us.  It was hard to sleep – it was cold and dark, I could hear the wind blowing outside, and I was worried about what might happen to me and to my stuff.  I woke up before my alarm went off and left before anyone could find me.

I eventually found my way to the Youth on Fire drop-in center, which has supported me through this time. The staff have helped me to adapt to different situations, and figure out where I could go and how I could be safe. They are people I trust and know have my best interest at heart. They also support me in the decisions I make.

At YOF, I also met a whole community of other young people going through similar things. Having friends who understood what I was going through helped keep some of the depression away. They helped me find safe places to sleep and how to find food, reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my situation, and reminded me that things were going to get better. My friends have been my life-line through everything.

I am currently working at Landsdown Pub as a buser.  I’m staying with a friend – I’ve been there for a month and I think I will be able to stay there until I have enough to pay for my own place. I am also working on improving my relationship with my family, and I am hopeful that that will keep getting better.

In five years, my goal is to have one job that allows me to pay my bills and be stable. I would like to go to college – I think about joining the military to help pay for school. I might study criminal justice or learn to run my own business. Maybe I’ll become a transitional specialist for people coming out of jails.

In addition to what I will be doing for work, I want to find the person that I will spend the rest of my life with.

I sometimes think about writing a book about my life that would inspire other people to overcome whatever is in front of them. And I think I will always be an advocate for youth that are experiencing homelessness to find ways to make things better for them.

It’s really hard to put your heart and soul into things when you’re not at a stable point in your life. When you worry about where your next meal will come from or where you will stay for the night – its hard to focus on things like school and getting to a better place because you are just in survival mode.

The State needs to have more supports for youth who are experiencing homelessness. We need better planning and supports for kids aging out of DCF, better benefits for people on public assistance, and more drop-in centers like Youth on Fire that provide us with resources and supports.

I want you reading this today to know that even though this situation is really hard, people who are homeless can be resilient and strong.  I have learned how to stay away from the wrong crowds, let people know what I need, and how to speak up for myself.  None of this has been easy. But I know what I want for myself and know how to take steps to get it.  In order to get out of where I was, I had to decide that I wanted to change and get help. I took some steps forward, and I know others can too.

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