Going from Homeless to Advocate

written by naehblog
November 16, 2012

In recognition of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we at the Alliance are highlighting the issue of youth homelessness in our blog. For this blog entry, Jimmy Ramirez, a formerly homeless youth who went on  to become an advocate for homeless youth, shares his story.

My name is Jimmy Ramirez, and I’m from Oakley, California, a small town in the Bay Area just outside of San Francisco. I am currently a sophomore at Georgetown University, studying Government in hopes of pursuing a career in public service. I am a former homeless youth.

In 2010, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, my mother, sister, and I found ourselves without a place to stay after my mother lost her job and the bank foreclosed on our house, which left our family facing a seemingly insurmountable amount of financial and emotional stress.

As you might imagine, without a stable roof over my head, I was frequently absent from school. I lost interest in my academics and extra-curricular activities. This was uncommon for me, a student who had an A average for most of my academic career. During this period, faculty members at my high school and members of my community noticed changes in my behavior and attitude. They responded with understanding and inclusiveness.

For example, my school district’s McKinney-Vento liaison, Sarah Singrin,, provided my sister and me with important supplies like laundry detergent and toiletries. And one of my teachers, Fidel Garcia, took me into his home, and helped me pay for college application fees and SAT tests.

Looking back on my own experience, I realize now that I, like all homeless youth, had little control over the circumstances that led to my homelessness. There was no way I could magically prevent my mom from losing her job, or the bank from foreclosing on our house.

But at the time I refused to think of myself as “homeless.” That word applied only to the stereotype of the chronically homeless that I saw so often on TV and in the media, unkempt men sleeping on benches. But after a good deal of reflection I eventually came to terms with my situation. I may not have been sleeping on a bench, but I did not have a place to call home.

My struggle has made me stronger. Since that vulnerable time in my life I have felt a deep, personal desire to make a difference and work toward a day when no child has to endure what my sister and I did.

The love and support of my community, and the blessing of the people who believed in me, allowed me to graduate from high school as valedictorian and president of the student body. I applied to Georgetown University, my dream school, at the end of my senior year, and I was accepted on a full ride.

Now Georgetown University is my home. At Georgetown, where the Jesuit curriculum emphasizes values such as, “men and women for others,” I’m surrounded by brilliant individuals who care about the well-being of other people and strive to achieve social justice.

It was the example of these incredible people of Georgetown that inspired me to search for a summer internship that would do just that. That was how I found the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP), a statewide policy initiative of the California Research Bureau that addresses the social problem that has defined my life: youth homelessness.

Its mission is to educate policymakers on issues that relate to the plight of youth experiencing homelessness. As an intern, I was responsible for staying up to date on legislation related to youth homelessness, as well as maintaining the organization’s social media presence and writing blog posts. Every day I encountered statistics that frustrated me. The number of youth in this country experiencing homelessness is completely unacceptable.

Occasionally, I would come across inspirational stories about the impressive achievements of a homeless youth. One young man I read about was forced out of his home because of his sexual orientation, but, with the help and care of a community of individuals who connected him with resources, he went on to become valedictorian of his high school.

The reason that students like he and I were able to succeed and achieve stability in our lives is simple, and fundamental. Someone who cared found us and gave us the help we needed.

When it comes to the issue of youth homelessness, there is a lack of education and awareness among policymakers and the public, who know little about the sorts of issues that this vulnerable segment of the population struggles with.

Prior to this internship, my view of the future was pessimistic. I worried that we might never see an end to youth homelessness. This internship has shown me how complex the problem is, but it has also shown me that among the advocates, practitioners and policymakers there is a growing awareness and a sense of urgency.

With Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the inclusion of homeless youth in the Point-In-Time Counts this January, and the tireless work of countless homeless youth assistance providers across the country, we are taking steps in the right direction.

The CAHYP has given me hope and an opportunity to bring the voice of homeless youth to the policy table. I continue to consult with the  CAHYP, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to California’s first-ever statewide plan to End Youth Homelessn.

As we move forward, remember: only by working together can we end youth homelessness.