Manny is a poet. He stores some of his work in a school composition notebook, but he also makes use of a small black cell phone. When inspiration strikes, he taps the lines and stanzas into his phone while they are still fresh in his mind.
Manny has a lot on his mind: he is one of the many unaccompanied young adults in Massachusetts currently experiencing homelessness.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults up to age 24 experience homelessness for more than a week each year. Homelessness can have real and severe consequences for a young person’s physical, mental and socioemotional health. According to the National Network for Youth, this group is at an increased risk for sexual exploitation and victimization, as well as involvement with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
“When you’re homeless, there are almost no norms,” Manny explains. “You meet very strange people, everything’s irregular, times and schedules can be very irregular . . . compared to living in a home that has a solid structure to how things are done. Losing all normalcy can actually make you . . . lose aspects of keeping yourself together.”
Manny stays in emergency shelters while striving to maintain stable employment and to secure housing. This balancing act, weighing immediate needs against long-term needs, can be “very, very tough” to accomplish.
“It’s like having a part-time job, searching for housing,” Manny reflects. “[With housing], there’s a lot of things that people don’t talk about, a lot of programs that are not too talked about. There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of responsibility involved in it.”
Despite these immense challenges, Manny works temporary jobs when he can while learning ways to navigate homelessness services, housing agencies and the streets. This has provided him strength and direction – and a way forward.
“I became is a self-starter so far as working and advocating [for] myself,” Manny says.
Manny currently works with Pine Street Inn’s IMPACT Employment Services. Through working with IMPACT, Manny hopes to secure and retain a decent job while looking for a permanent place to call his home.
He is a graduate of MHSA’s Leadership Development Program, which provides young adults who are experiencing homelessness with opportunities to strengthen their skills as leaders and advocates to end homelessness. Manny recognizes the power his voice and story convey – not only to advocate for himself, but also to advocate for others who may identify with his lived experience.
Manny plans on beginning college next fall, hoping to gain “a better build of character, a more stable mindset, a more set schedule, financial situation, and a better social situation, too.” He hopes that his education will allow him the opportunity to give back as a teacher or tutor in the Boston Public Schools.
While he has a lot of work ahead of him, Manny is up for the challenge as he looks for housing, applies for jobs and prepares to continue his education. In the meantime, he continues to capture his lived experiences in the form of poems on his phone, like Movement:
When you’re homeless the ground moves beneath your feet,
Making it impossible to base yourself stably,
Some people choose the direction the group moves in,
Putting them in pursuit of something other than a solution.
Those poems convey Manny’s voice. If our community is serious about ending the crisis of young adult homelessness, we must listen to him, as well as to the voices of his peers who are working toward finding stable housing and a brighter future.