I used to dread it when people at school asked me where I live or if we could hang out at my place. I would try to give my schoolmates a general response, maybe the name of a neighborhood, but they always pressed for more. I’ve been homeless on and off for most of my life. I’ve lived in New York City shelters twice for extended periods of time. Most of the other times my mother and I bounced from house to house of friends and relatives.
I remember one time we were living in a house with 15 people. It was a nice house, but not for 15 people. It was originally three bedrooms, but after we makeshifted it – changing the closets into rooms and stuff like that – we ended up with about seven “bedrooms”. Kids were always running around. Someone would bring in all these animals and then never take care of them. We had two bathrooms but one broke often. One even became a kind of prison for a cat that no one wanted. You would think someone would just take the cat to the ASPCA, but everyone was too lazy. The house fell into disarray. We couldn’t even get down the hallway without stumbling over trash.
Perhaps other students in my school lived like I did, but I never knew it. I recently heard about the New York Times profile of Dasani, an 11-year-old homeless girl. In some ways, I know how she feels. I, too, am one of the estimated 22,000 homeless students in the city.