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Young and Homeless During the Recession

Leaving home has never been so tough

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Commentary and Video, Words: Chris Tamaru // Video: Ann Bassette Posted: May 22, 2009

Editor's Note: Getting kicked out of the house isn't uncommon for young people, but trying to deal with the stigma and danger of homelessness during these economic times can be even more trying. Chris Tamaru, 18, is an intern with The Beat Within, and Ann Bassette is a senior video producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

Ive been getting in trouble my whole life so much that my mother finally turned me over to be a ward of the state when I was 17. It wasnt until I was locked up and then homeless, that I realized I needed to turn my life around.

I was born in Fremont, Calif. and raised in Union City. I had what many people would consider a troubled childhood. I started getting expelled from schools and into trouble for as long as I can remember. I always had a short temper and definitely a problem with anybody in authority. Because I was going through hard times at home, I started to take my anger out on anybody, even on people I didnt know.

VIDEO:NOT QUITE HOMELESS: After she was thrown out of her mother's house, Vanessa, 17, decided to move into a SRO on San Francisco's gritty Sixth Street.

By the time I was 12, I was getting into so much trouble that my mom decided to send me to a behavioral modification home, which is basically a group home, in Spokane, WA. I was there for about three years. I think it just made me worse. I did manage to get good grades while I was there. I think this was because the school I went to was pretty cool, which basically means there were a lot of pretty girls there. It was located in a remote area. I guess I learned a lot of things, especially how to work around a ranch and how to do a lot of work with my hands.

Most of the kids there were 17 or almost 18, so I was the smallest and youngest. I was constantly fighting to keep from being picked on. The upside is that I did learn how to fight better. We also had limited food at the group home. So we did what we had to do at school to be able to eat, including robbing people.

I finally got out of there when I was 15 and I went back to the Bay Area. I immediately started getting in trouble and going to juvenile hall. By the time I turned 16, I was affiliated with a gang and became incarcerated. For the next three years, I saw and did things that are unforgivable. I also dropped out of high school, which is still something I regret.

Last year was really my turning point. I was incarcerated for pretty much all of 2008. What was supposed to be just a violation of probation turned into a year-long sentence, when my mom turned over custody of me to the courts. Since they had nowhere to release me, the decision was made for me to spend the remainder of my time until I turned 18 in juvenile hall.

During my last stay in the hall, I really started thinking about some of the things I was doing and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had to change my life when I got out.

When I was released from juvenile hall, I was told by the court that I had to go into a shelter, because I was technically still a ward of the court and I was still on juvenile probation. I was put into Dreamcatchers Youth Shelter in downtown Oakland. The shelter was basically just a small house with two rooms, one for girls and one for the boys, with two bunk beds in each room.

At first going into the shelter, I was really depressed and feeling hopeless. When you have to live with people that arent your family and you really dont want to be around them, it really gets you down.

While I was in the shelter, I didnt really talk to anybody at first, but after a while I made friends. I dont talk to any of them anymore except for one of the girls I met there. After a while, I did kind of get used to being at the shelter, but I was still stressed out just knowing that I did not have a stable place to live. It is embarrassing when people ask you where you live and you have to make something up to explain why you cant stay out late because the shelter has a curfew.

The stress of not having a stable place to live can make you feel like you dont want to do anything, not even go to school. When you dont have any family willing to help you, it also makes you feel like you have nobody that truly loves you. At this time, I was not in real communication with my family. I did talk to them sometimes, but they werent helping me financially or offering me a place to stay.

Not having a stable family situation has also messed up a lot of relationships, because Im so used to feeling unloved that when I do have someone that tries to show me love or love me, its awkward for me. Its something Im not used to, and I tend to push them away so I can get back to what feels comfortable to me. It happened with the girl that Im with right now. I got a lot of love for her, but at first it was hard to show that because I wasnt used to expressing how I was feeling.

After Dreamcatchers, which was a short-term shelter, I had to move to another longer term shelter. It was just too stressful there, because a lot of the kids there had mental issues and a lot were still dope fiends. So, I decided to find my own place. I was able to save up money from my job with The Beat Within, a publication for incarcerated youth that I had written for when I was in juvenile hall, and get my own place after about a month in this shelter.

I dont think that it's too hard being out on my own. Ive pretty much looked out for myself my whole life, so not too much has changed. I like living on my own a lot better than living in a shelter. I can control what I do on a day-to-day basis and can do pretty much whatever I want without the rules and boundaries of living in a shelter. I try to stay out of trouble as much as possible, but sometimes that just isnt possible. Im going to start community college in Hayward this fall and I hope to graduate and go onto a four-year college. Now that my life is in order, I will hopefully do big things.

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