People always assume that homeless youth can get off the streets and just go back to a family. Just go back to your mom and dad. But for most of us, we didn’t have a family. And if we did, it was the family we had run from.
At the age of 14, I was put in a foster home where there wasn’t much kindness. The whole cycle of foster homes was pretty terrible. I remember getting kicked out of my last foster home and I thought to myself, “I’m just going to head to California and make my own family.” Little did I know that My Friend’s Place would become like family to me.
It was 1999 and I was 19. I got off the bus from Michigan to Los Angeles at 2am. I had no idea where to go, so I went to Hollywood and just walked along Hollywood Boulevard. Pretty quickly, some of the squatter kids saw this new face and they took me in. Within three days of hitting the streets, the kids brought me to My Friend’s Place.
My crew and I would wander from place to place in Hollywood, looking for somewhere to sleep, looking for something to eat. We’d bounce from one service provider to another, but My Friend’s Place was special. We could always get a meal and snacks at My Friend’s Place, but we also got so much more. We were able to get hygiene supplies, and participate in creative arts workshops. My Friend’s Place helped me get into shelter. But the most significant thing we found at My Friend’s Place was kindness.
One of my biggest memories of My Friend’s Place was Frank, the Safe Haven Manager. He was always smiling. He’s such a part of the foundation of My Friend’s Place, and I knew that I could count on Frank to be there for me. You could tell him, or any of the staff, the worst things in the world, the deepest pain you were in, and you’d be met with a hug. Not judgment. Not rejection. Just a smile and kindness.
Even though you’re rarely alone, the streets can be pretty isolating. My Friend’s Place really was my safe haven. I knew I could turn to the staff there no matter how bad things got. I knew I could always count on them. Even when we came in stinking to high heaven, the staff would say how great it was to see us. Even if I had been away for a little while, when I’d come back to My Friend’s Place, Frank would be there with a big smile and a hug. And then he would hand me my mail he’d be saving for me.
At My Friend’s Place, I always knew that people were not going to be judgmental. No one was going to force me to do something, to change. Instead, you were always approached with the idea that when you’re ready to make some changes, My Friend’s Place is here. You just let us know.
I came to My Friend’s Place off and on for a couple of years. Around the time I turned 25, I started to realize that, soon, these services would no longer be an option for me. I had just gotten out of prison and, realizing that I couldn’t go back to My Friend’s Place, I knew I needed to make some changes. Even though I was 25, My Friend’s Place still helped connect me with resources for adult services, and that’s really how I got myself into housing and found a job.
I’ve grown so much since those days on the streets all those years ago. Today, I’m a married mother of three, and I’m in my second year at USC in the Masters of Social Work program.
When I graduate next year, I want to put the following on my graduation cap:
- Foster Youth
- Prison Inmate
- LACC Student
- McNair Scholar
- MSW from USC
- Next: PhD?
When I think back on what lead me to become the person that I am today, there are a few people, like the staff at My Friend’s Place, and particularly Frank, who showed me what it means to make giving back a part of your work. I want my work to benefit youth who are in similar situations to where I was a few years ago.
18 years ago, when there were few things in life that I was sure of, I knew My Friend’s Place would always be there.
- Heidi, My Friend’s Place alumna