Two years ago, I stood on the curb in Los Angeles with my two children and a pile of bags. I thought I was in a dream. I remember the stares, mostly empty stares, as people walked by me silently on Rampart and Third Street. I remained enrolled in high school because I wanted to be a role model for my kids. Nonetheless, a wave of despair, resentment, and hopelessness came over me. I had no idea that my roommate did not pay her side of the rent, and certainly no clue of the pending eviction that followed.
With my babies in need, I tried to avoid the streets by calling my old social worker to see if I could go back into the foster care system since I was still only 17 years old. The social worker said, “If you don’t go back to your [biological] mom’s home, your children are going to get taken away from you.” That statement condemned us to the streets because I refused to return to an abusive home or abandon my children to an unknown fate.
Homeless life followed the eviction. We relocated from motel-to-motel on a weekly basis. I worked and received food stamps, which helped a lot. After six months, I found a relative’s home where we could stay, but experienced daily physical and verbal abuse. I then moved to another kin’s place shortly thereafter. Today, I am grateful to live in a transitional housing facility with my children.
I wish there had been other options available to me when I needed help. Knowing that many former foster youth must suffer the consequences of street trauma, I helped organize the Los Angeles Foster Youth Town Hall on Homelessness. During our first meeting, all six organizers raised our hands, acknowledging first-hand homelessness experience. We believe that street youth need an automatic, no-questions-asked sanctuary option, whether that is foster care or some other viable alternative. I mean, is there ever a reason we should deprive young people housing safety?
Monzerratt Lamas is an advocate for foster youth rights and experienced foster care herself in Los Angeles both as a baby and from ages 13 through 15. She is a leader for Foster Youth Who Vote, a civic association of adults formerly in foster care who wish to engage in meaningful dialogue with our government and child welfare leaders.