Hear six local young people talk about how they became homeless and what finally helped them get off the streets.
As part of our ongoing Young and Homeless project, we worked with two local nonprofits — The Mockingbird Society in Seattle and Everett-based Cocoon House — to connect with currently or formerly homeless youths who were willing to address the question, “What would have helped you?”
Shana Burgess, Lamar Campbell, Tyler Donhardt, Sierra Phillips, Anton Summers and Mandy Urwiler all encountered homelessness at some point as a teenager or young adult. In the video above, they provide insight into what would have helped them: A warm place to sleep. More shelter beds. Someone to reach out and intervene on the streets.
All six are now in transitional housing or have found their own place to live.
What follows are three additional written responses from local youth who are connected to The Mockingbird Society and Cocoon House. Two of the authors requested not to use their full names — a request The Seattle Times granted due to their age and the sensitive topics they’re addressing.
“As I exited the foster-care system, one thing that would have helped me is having the opportunity to take classes on living independently.
I was enrolled in the state’s Independent Living Program (ILP), but it didn’t prepare me to be on my own — to understand bills or function in my own apartment. I never learned about saving money or even managing money. When obtaining my first apartment, I felt secure because I thought the state’s ILP would always be there for me to handle any problems that I didn’t understand. But the reality is, the instructors never taught me how to do it for myself.
Due to not learning true independence, I struggled to transition into adulthood. I believe if there were classes offered on how to manage money, how to access public utilities, rent-program assistance and the importance of building rental history, then I wouldn’t have become homeless right when I turned 21, leaving extended foster care. I didn’t understand any of the bills and struggled to live without assistance.
I am currently homeless and am doing a lot of research and outreach to programs that I am qualified for. It doesn’t feel good being where I am now, but my biological family has helped me work through this. I just wish I was given some core classes and skills to learn what it really means to be independent.”
–Janell Braxton, 21
“My name is Dakota, and I am a youth staying in transitional housing at Cocoon House in Everett. I ended up here because I did not have a safe home or family members to rely on. I have always been told by my teachers and other people that I am a good kid, but I guess my family didn’t feel like I was worth much because they never treated me very well. I have always kept my head up and have always known I can be whoever I want to be regardless of my family’s feelings.
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At age 7, I was taken from my mother due to her constant drug abuse, abusive behavior and aggressive boyfriends in Oklahoma. I was put in foster care and sent to live with an uncle in Washington state. What should have been a new start for me became yet another traumatic experience when my uncle followed my mother and became an abuser. I eventually sought refuge in the streets of Seattle because any place is better than my uncle’s place.
I am so proud to now be a youth accountability mentor at Cocoon House, and I have never missed one day of school during my time of despair and transition.
At Cocoon House, we have résumé-building classes and job application classes and other resources that help with furthering our education and finding a job. They sit down and work with you on applying for colleges and getting scholarships. That helps a lot.
I am now preparing college applications to become an online game designer. I have scholarships to help pay for college, but I might still have to take loans. The next step is applying to a college and making sure I have what I need.
The decision to apply to college is something that I’ve had to think about for a long time. Most of my family hasn’t graduated high school, so I will be the first person in my family to go to college.
I’m not really going to have my friends from high school there when I leave. It’s going to be hard, but I’ll be able to adapt.”
“The one thing that could have prevented me from becoming homeless is forgiveness. My family has always been stubborn, which created problems for me individually and for our family as a whole.
Some might say I was headed toward homelessness since the first time my father beat me. Had my parents stayed together, had I gotten better grades, had I been on anti-depression meds, had my father not insisted that I redo all the chores his way, had he not said that I had to live by his rules, if I hadn’t acted like a smart a** and left to escape his near tyrannical reign — change any one of those events and maybe things would be different. But I wouldn’t wish them to be.
During my stay at Cocoon House I’ve met a lot of people, made a lot of friends, and I’ve grown as a person. So no matter when my life began to turn towards homelessness, I wouldn’t change what happened because it’s what makes me, me.”