One Young Person’s Story of Homelessness
Dae’Jah was 13 when she first became homeless. She clearly remembers the day her mother told her they had to pack up everything they had and leave their house because they were being evicted. Her mom had lost her business and was no longer able to make the mortgage payments.
During the 3 years she was homeless, Dae’Jah kept a diary in which she wrote things like, “My mom found $20, so now we can get gas for the car and I can go to school” and “I couldn’t go to school today because we don’t have any gas, but at least we have food for dinner.” She remembers the days when she would try to get all of her homework done before leaving school, because the time after school was spent worrying about where dinner was going to come from and where she would shower and sleep that night. After a brief stint living with her dad, her mom eventually secured housing again when Dae’Jah was in the 10th grade, and she’s had stable housing since.
Now 18 and a college freshman at Virginia State University, Dae’Jah is a political science major and is ready to fight homelessness, with a focus on homelessness and education. She’s already educating others, just as she was doing when I saw her speak at a seminar hosted by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church on Jan. 5.
Dae’Jah is part of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, a project of the National Coalition for the Homeless. NCH is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to preventing and ending homelessness. They also strive to ensure the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.
NCH is providing leadership for the National Campaign for Youth Shelter. Over 500,000 young people experience homelessness every year in the U.S. Despite that, there are only 4,000 youth shelter beds across the country. That means the majority of homeless youth are forced to struggle for survival on the streets. The National Campaign for Youth Shelter fights for a federal commitment to provide immediate access to safe shelter for all young people under age 24, beginning with an immediate addition of 22,000 shelter beds and services. They’re also pushing for a more accurate count of the number of homeless youth to make sure enough shelter beds are available for homeless youth over the next decade.
According to NCH, many homeless young people have fled abusive situations, aged-out of the foster care system with no resources, or been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, as many as 40% of the nation’s homeless youth are LGBT, even though only 5% of the overall youth population in the U.S. is LGBT. The campaign has posters, web badges, sample tweets, and a full media package that advocates can download to help spread the word about the need for more shelter beds for youth.
In the open and honest Q&A session that followed Dae’Jah’s presentation, a member of the gathered group who was going to be volunteering at a homeless shelter asked Dae’Jah for guidance on talking to a shelter client. Dae’Jah’s answer was simple: “Don’t talk to them like they’re homeless…They’re still human.”