“People don’t realize how complex existing is when you don’t have a support frame of people helping you,” Emerson, a youth at Avenues, recently said.
Emerson moved into Avenues last September when they were 17 years old. Since then, they’ve celebrated their 18th birthday, and are working towards getting their own apartment. Last month Avenues featured an article about Emerson, which you can read here. This month, Emerson shared what they want the general public to know about housing instability. And Emerson wants you to know about the realities of homelessness and poverty.
“It’s the little things,” Emerson said. “I’ll hear (from stably housed youth) my parents do my taxes for me, my parents help me with my apartment fund, my parents pay for college. People don’t realize and don’t think about it, but I don’t have parents teaching me about taxes, college, and I have to figure out all of that stuff on my own. It’s exhausting. People take a lot for granted.”
In Emerson’s family, money is tight and their mom constantly works to support Emerson and their sister. While they have housing, poverty still impacts the family.
“Poor people,” Emerson explained, “Their families can’t afford driving lessons, or help pay for college. My mom was exhausted all the time. She couldn’t pay for my driving lessons so I didn’t get driving lessons. My sister did have driving lessons because she paid for it herself, but she hasn’t gotten her permit yet because you need hours driving with someone else in the car. My mom doesn’t have time for that. She’s working fulltime. People don’t realize that low-income families, or parents who aren’t there for them, there’s so much you cannot do.”
With help from staff, Emerson has completed their GED, found a job, and is saving for an apartment. Even with help and stable housing, Emerson still feels exhausted.
“People don’t realize how exhausting shelter hopping is. You sit and think, well if I can’t get out of it (homelessness) in this time frame, then I have to find somewhere else to stay. I have to move, have to find a new job, and you’re constantly thinking about it,” Emerson said. “Like 90% of the day I’m thinking about what I need to do to get an apartment in the twelve months I have left here. People don’t realize how exhausting it is or how hard I’m working.”
Of course Emerson is right. Youth experiencing homelessness and/or poverty face enormous barriers, and must work harder than their peers to keep up. At Avenues, nearly all of the youth we support are in poverty, and many like Emerson have strained relationships with their parents. Despite this, youth are making progress on their goals every day. Thanks to their resiliency and tenacity, Emerson is on track to get their own apartment after Avenues.
*Emerson’s name has been changed.