Homelessness can happen to anyone. I know because I experienced it. One day in fifth grade, my parents sat my siblings and me down together in our tiny apartment. Mom is calm and says, “Dad got fired, and we don’t have a place to stay.”
I felt worried that the six of us are now homeless. We packed up our heavy furniture and dishes and locked them away in a storage unit. The rest of our belongings came with us to a shelter called Mary’s Place in downtown Minneapolis. It’s a nonprofit charitable organization that uses donations to provide transitional apartments for homeless families with children.
Our apartment at Mary’s Place had two small rooms, one bathroom and a huge living room connected to the kitchen. They offered us free food and clothes. On the weekdays, we rode to school in big buses or taxi cars with strangers because we didn’t have other transportation to school.
When we got home from school, my brother and I pretended to be like race cars riding down the long hallways. In one room, students and teachers were scattered working on homework. We moved around the building using magnetic-striped cards that we used to enter and exit rooms. I visualized my parents as being spies.
For the most part, I felt grateful for a warm place to stay for all of us. But, for two months I was homesick because a shelter never felt like home and people were always watching. I felt like a prisoner sinking into the huge ocean that was swallowing us up.
After two months, my dad finally found a job to support our family. We moved out of Mary’s Place and found a nice apartment in St. Paul for us to settle in. Moving out, I felt like a bird flying freely in the big, beautiful sky. I don’t ever want to be homeless again.
As soon as I could legally work, I applied for a job at an organization called Urban Roots. I said to myself, “I need this job so I can save money for college and earn a good job that can support my family!”
At first it was hard for me to display my personality and communicate with my coworkers. By the end of the summer, I gained confidence to talk with more of my peers and open up. I returned a second year and I was promoted to having more hours and took on more responsibility at Urban Roots. During the summer, I learned how to become a leader to the new employees and teach them what I learned. My team and I helped fix the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in St. Paul, and also helped with a huge project for the Department of Natural Resources to create a better environment for visitors. We also fixed Dayton’s Bluff Elementary School’s garden while working with young students.
Working at Urban Roots for two years allowed me to save money to help my family and to pay for college. Urban Roots, just like the kind, compassionate people at Mary’s Place, provided opportunities for people like me to feel like they’re a part of a community. And I want to do the same for others. My family and I are a long way away from being homeless, but we will never forget our experiences.