This is the fourth post in a series written by a dear friend. She has a huge heart for unknown and forgotten children. Over the weeks she will be sharing their stories.
One of the most amazing and important things I have learned over the past twenty years working with at risk and homeless youth around the world is how resilient and resourceful they can be. I’ve seen street kids in Kenya build unique and interesting toys and household items out of trash that you and I would have never even looked at! I have seen kids in the U.S. find odd jobs and make encampments that would make the Boy Scouts proud!
I asked one of my favorite kids who has become part of our family over the past 4 years if she would tell her story in her own words. She is truly one of the most resilient, resourceful, intelligent and determined young women I have ever known. I think you will agree after you read her story.
In the summer of 2011, after leaving an abusive mother and bouncing around family members for awhile, I found myself 17 years old and alone on the streets of Seattle. I didn’t know anyone, I had nowhere to go and I was completely alone.
I went to the library and found a drop in center for homeless youth. I met a group of kids there that camped together in a tent under the freeway overpass. They took me in and I started dating one of them. I was 17 and he was 24. Looking back, I realized that I didn’t really like him very much but he was stronger, bigger and seemed like a good person to protect me in this new scary life.
Living under the bridge among older men, drug addicts and questionable people was pretty frightening. I soon learned little ways to protect myself, like carrying a pocket knife, or a rock in my pocket that I could use if necessary.
Always being alert and never looking down when walking were also things I learned very quickly. Looking small and fragile was dangerous. At 5’2″ I didn’t look very intimidating so I had to make up for my lack of size with a big presence. I developed the habit of not looking away when anyone stared at me, especially older men. In my mind looking them in the eyes told them I wasn’t afraid and they couldn’t mess with me.
There was one terrifying experience I remember very clearly. It was around 2am, I was walking around downtown by myself and across the street I noticed 3 guys who were obviously drunk. They noticed me and stumbled across the street, calling out to me and heading in my direction. I just happened to be standing at a bus stop. At that moment a bus came and a guy I knew got off the bus. I’m not the biggest believer in God but I felt like God knew I needed help and He sent this guy to make sure I was safe. I spent the night riding the bus with him because I was afraid to get off. In the morning he took me to a drop in center where I was able to shower, get food and clean clothes.
Later that day I went to a free clinic and found out I was pregnant. I was terrified. At 17 and homeless, how was I supposed to take care of a baby? I cried all the way back to Renton where I was staying at the time. You see the father of my child was a drug addict so I had to figure what I was going to do on my own. After thinking about the alternatives I made the decision to keep my baby. In order to make that happen I knew I had to finish high school and get housing.
The first 4 months of my pregnancy were spent living under the bridge. Throwing up every morning outside a tent was not an easy way to start a school day. But every day after my morning up chuck I’d get my backpack and go to high school. When I turned 18 I was able to get into a transitional house for young adults. Even though I had a warm bed I still found myself walking the four miles back to see my friends under the bridge. Being able to spend time with them meant the world to me.
About this time, I met an older friend named Rachel. When I first met her she was super nice and easy to talk to. When I told her I was pregnant and wanted to parent, she instantly got me in touch with her friend who worked at a transitional house. She helped me enroll in school, answered whenever I called, and was willing to talk with me when I needed to talk to someone. Later, she even met me at the hospital when I had my baby girl and actually drove me home. Even after she moved out of the country she sent me emails asking how I was and sent me cute little pair of socks for my baby.
June 2012 I was getting ready to go to school and give my senior presentation so I could graduate the next day. Ten minutes before I was going to leave I started feeling some intense contractions. Instead of going to school that day I went to the hospital to welcome my beautiful baby girl. Two weeks later I did give my presentation which wasn’t very good but my teachers were distracted by my cute baby so I graduated!
The past few years haven’t been the easiest but I have my own apartment now a decent job and most importantly a happy healthy 3 year old.
Being homeless taught me things that not only saved my life but help me realize exactly how strong and resilient I was. I’m not happy about the circumstances that lead to it or the some of the decisions I had to make but I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had, the lessons I’ve learned, and the friends I’ve made from my days as a street kid.
Thank you so much for reading, friends. I hope Sarah’s story impacts you as it does me.
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