As Christmas fast approaches, there are thousands of youth experiencing homelessness here in Massachusetts, facing the holiday without a place to call home. Although each of their stories are different, these youth have one common thread, that is – not one of them would ever have imagined they would be homeless this Christmas.
My name is Tina. I know first hand how it feels to be homeless for the holidays. At age 13, by no mistake of my own, my life change forever. Growing up in a home where both my parents battled with addiction, my father died of an overdose and shortly after, my mother was sent to prison. From that moment on I became an unaccompanied homeless youth, outside the care of a parent or guardian.
At first I was shuffled from family member to family member, sleeping on their couches – never being able to stay too long at any one of their homes. I didn't have much of a choice but to grow up fast as a child. The influence of drugs, alcohol abuse, and mental instability can put a toll on anyone, especially someone who has found themselves constantly fighting a struggle against the world. I learned to survive very quickly. With no parent or formal guardian and with no real home life, I miraculously finished high school magna cum laude. School became the one place I found refuge from the chaos of my life.
In the late summer after graduating from high school, I moved to Massachusetts to attend Salem State University. During the school year, I lived in student housing but come summer break I was once again facing homelessness. Desperate to succeed, I had to learn the ins and outs of Massachusetts and the different programs that might be able to help me. With little success, I discovered that there were not many homelessness programs geared for homeless youth – or at least not any places for drug-free and hardworking homeless students. I reached out to agencies searching for solutions and plausible options and there weren't many. They all seemed to lead to a solution no one wants to accept: an adult homeless shelter. It was scary to think that my independence only would lead me to a shelter.
Gratefully, upon moving to Massachusetts, I began building a relationship with my parent’s family. Luckily, I had the opportunity to move in with my 90-year old grandfather. I am one of the fortunate ones but sadly approximately 6,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in Massachusetts* don’t have a place to go to other than the streets. Far too many young adults are sleeping in alleys and abandoned buildings. Some are forced into the sex trade or survival sex just to get off the streets; even more turn to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain.
I can only speak for myself, as I have overcome homelessness and adversity. But I'm sure there are many who cry themselves to sleep longing for a way out of their nightmare. That is why I have joined the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless in their fight to end youth homelessness through the passage of House Bill 135: An Act providing housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth. To learn more about this bill, please visit www.mahomeless.org. The passage of this Important legislation would make it possible for thousands of youth faced with nowhere to go to have a place to turn. The bill would make it possible for the creation of supportive housing and case management for at-risk and homeless youth throughout out the Commonwealth. As the Coalition mobilizes people from across the state to work for the bill’s passage, the Coalition also is playing a leading role in the Massachusetts Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, which is investigating the scope of youth homelessness and moving forward towards local and statewide solutions to youth homelessness.
In less time than it took you to read this letter, you can make an impact by the simple act of following this link http://mahomeless.org/advocacy/2013-09-24-20-38-15 This link will bring you to the Coalition’s website where you can take action by filling out an online letter to your State Senator and Representative in support of House Bill 135.
Your legislator at the State House need to hear from you that you support “An Act providing housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth”, House Bill 135. The passage of this bill will ensure that by next Christmas there will be hope for at-risk and homeless youth in Massachusetts.
Thank you for ttaking the time to read my story and, more importantly, for taking action with me!