Stable Housing Adds Up for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

“Now that I’m in a stable place, I do want to go back to school. I think I want to go back to school for accounting. Because I’m really good at math. That’s a goal of mine, to get my degree or certificate.”

At the age of 19, Selena* found herself kicked out of her home with no stable alternative. Using what she had, she was able to stay safe and mostly sheltered despite her new circumstances. Still, her situation was by no means easy; Selena’s home life was riddled with constant disruptions, forcing her to continuously seek new shelter arrangements and employment opportunities.

“I got kicked out of my mom’s house when I was 19 years old,” she said. “I bounced around from house to house, couch to outside. Oh my goodness, I moved probably 12 times one year; every year I moved a lot. I stayed in homes that were roach infested. That was just crazy. I worked at Dollar General, I worked at Amazon as a delivery job, I worked at Amazon inside of the warehouse, I worked at Firehouse Subs in southern Maryland.”

This unstable lifestyle certainly wasn’t ideal, and Selena was looking for a way out. Homeless shelters became an important resource for her, especially in Baltimore, providing a more reliable place to stay. On a given night in Baltimore, over 1,100 people rely on emergency homeless shelters. But this is only a fraction of the almost 12,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city. For many, shelters can be uncomfortable, insufficient, and occasionally even dangerous. Finally, Selena stumbled across St. Ambrose.

“I walked into the shelter one day, and I seen the sign on a billboard that said, ‘St. Ambrose: we help teens 18 to 24,’ and I said ‘you know what? I’m going to get this a try.’ They reached out to me, and told me that they had a spot for me. And I was happy. I moved into a home and then I eventually moved into the Hope House.”

Selena entered into St. Ambrose’s youth Homesharing program, where young people experiencing homelessness live with a St. Ambrose-partnered host. These hosts volunteer to offer space in their home for these youths to live and get themselves back on their feet. After a while, some participants, like Selena, move into Hope House, a home where participants in the Homesharing program live together, supporting one another, caring for the house, and preparing themselves to return to an independent lifestyle.

“It was nice being there,” she said about her experience in the program. “The house was clean. It felt so good to be able to just lay my head on a clean bed and take a shower and stuff like that. I was just so happy that somebody opened up their home to me and other people as well. It changed my life. It helped me become more stable. My mind was everywhere, but just to have somewhere stable, it helps the mind calm down a lot.”

Selena entered St. Ambrose’s Homesharing program in 2019. In the early months of 2020, Selena and the other residents of Hope House were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Selena was facing a unique wave of setbacks and frustrations, but she was able to lean on her newfound stability and weather the storm.

 “I lost my job on March the 9th, and then the pandemic came on my birthday. They shut the city down on my birthday, March the 13th, I was like ‘wow,’ I couldn’t even believe it.”

Despite the initial shock of the pandemic, Selena stayed active in her pursuit for a more independent life. Homelessness can be a major barrier to employment for many. While 61% of homeless adults in Baltimore want to work, only 5% are currently employed. Getting stable housing allowed Selena to seek out new opportunities. After securing a new job in May, Selena graduated from the Homesharing program in June of 2020 and now lives in her own apartment. She credited her current situation to the resources she was able to make use of during her time with St. Ambrose.

“Me having my own room; me being able to get on the computer and look up different jobs was great,” she said. “There were little educational programs; I was also enrolled in a Civic Works program when I was there, I completed that while I was in St. Ambrose. I wasn’t just staying in the house, I was always doing something.”

Selena has continued to find new job opportunities and now owns her own car. She even hopes to return to college to pursue further education in the near future.

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