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Leaving The Shelter Doubled My GPA

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This is a teen-written article from our friends at Represent Magazine, a platform for and by young people in foster care. Some details in this young man's story have been changed.

By Marlo Scott

The first place I remember living was a three-bedroom apartment in a public housing project in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I was 9 years old. It was my four siblings, my mother, and me. My father lived in a shelter, but he came to visit us every day.

Bushwick is a calm neighborhood, and the people in my community were kind. My mother helped me with my homework and pushed me to focus on learning. She made me feel like one of the smartest kids around, and I knew she had my best interests in mind. I felt stable and I enjoyed school as a kid.

We had that apartment through a public housing program called Section 8 (which the city has since cut back). When my mother’s Section 8 voucher expired, we moved to a shelter in a different Brooklyn neighborhood. A year after we moved into the shelter, when I was 11, my mother died of cancer.

My brother and I went to live in kinship care with an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn. We missed our father, and after two years, he got custody of us. We lived in a family shelter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, for 13 months. Then my father got his own apartment in Rockaway, Queens for himself, my brother, and me. My sisters went to live with different aunts.

A Shelter Isn’t Home

Living in a shelter as a kid was horrible. Every time my peers at school spoke about their life at home, I felt uncomfortable knowing I was homeless. The shelter didn’t have cable TV, which left me out of many conversations at school.

I was also filled with envy of kids who had a home with a mom and dad. I felt like I was different from everyone else, and this made me angry. I grew disobedient and rebellious.

When I was 15, I got in some trouble, and family court sent me to a residential treatment center called Graham Windham. This placement had cottages for residents, two kids to each room. Every resident had an assigned chore, and it was up to us to keep the cottage clean. We all had to be somewhere every hour of every day.

I didn’t like living in such a regimented way. None of my time was my own. If you were not where you were supposed to be at all times, you either had to do two extra chores for a week or spend a whole day in your room.

I lived according to this program for a year before the state discharged me back to my father’s house in Rockaway, Queens. My father and I have always had a troubled relationship. But it was, for a while, home, and in the spring of 2012, I started commuting to Berkeley College as an accounting major.

College was always my dream, and I earned a 3.4 GPA my first semester, despite the fact that Graham’s high school had not been very challenging and I had a lot of catching up to do. Most of my classmates at Graham did not go to college.

Losing Focus

Last summer my father fell behind on the rent, partly because he bought a BMW that he couldn’t afford. The landlord evicted us November 1 (coincidentally right before Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of Rockaway). My father went his own way. We still speak, but he’s never told me where he’s living or asked where I live now.

I went to a youth shelter in Manhattan called Covenant House. The first time I walked through those doors, the smell of vomit and old mildew attacked me. Two old people interviewed me; they didn’t seem at all interested in my answers. Then they sent me upstairs to answer more questions, including “Why did you have to leave your parents?” I said, “I’d like to know the same thing.” They tried to call my father, but they couldn’t reach him.

I was placed in a room with two other teenage boys. They played hip-hop on their radio very loud. I said to the boy with the radio, “Turn the music down. I’m trying to sleep.”

He looked at me and I stared back. He blinked and said, “Why should I listen to you?” I stood up and said, “Because I have to go to school in the morning.”

Click here to read the rest of the story on RepresentMag.org.

Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.