Armando Santiago is a 20-year-old Atlanta native who has lived with his friends since 2012; but it wasn’t until this summer that he found himself forced to move into a homeless shelter with no place to go.
The overwhelming amount of grief that followed after his step father died from drunk driving, improper spending habits and having to pay for college by himself resulted in Santiago being homeless for the last three years.
“My stepdad didn’t even get to see me graduate high school. So when I went to college I had attitude problem and I never spent my money right and the Fee Bill started to add up,” he said.
A national issue
Homeless youth rose 85 percent (1.25 million students) from the beginning of 2008’s recession to the 2012-2013 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Three-quarters of homeless students live ‘doubled up ‘ — with friends or extended family members — while 16 percent live in shelters. Three percent live on the streets or without shelter, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
Jeremy Rosen, director of advocacy at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told CNN Money a lack of affordable housing is forcing families to live in the streets, shelters, motels or to double up with other families.
“This problem continues to get worse because in terms of government programs and support for homelessness, budgets have been cut in recent years, and there’s less affordable housing available,” he said in published reports.
Closer to home
Santiago stayed at Covenant House of Georgia (CHGA) for a month this summer where he was provided with resources that helped him get a job and leave the shelter.
“I had hit a personal low,” he said. “[I] never thought that I would ever be homeless.”
While Santiago was at CHGA, he met over 15 homeless youths who were either actively trying to get into school or were enrolled in an educational institution.
“The one thing we all had in common outside of homelessness is that we have all been through something extremely traumatic,” he said.
Santiago also said he met individuals who had been in and out of shelters their whole life but were determined to get an education.
Homelessness is not a choice, according to Santiago.
“No one wakes up and decides to be homeless, something in the course of their life changed where they are today,” he said.
You’re not alone
Santiago said the first thing youth who are experiencing homelessness should do is accept what has happened.
“First, you have to get over it,” he said. “It’s okay to cry but you won’t overcome it until you accept that it happened. Even if takes you days of crying just don’t drown in it.”
Santiago also said if it weren’t for keeping a positive mindset he wouldn’t be on track today.
“[I] could be in the dumps every day but it wouldn’t change my situation,” Santiago said. “I know for a fact I inspired three people to take hold of their lives at Covenant.”
He also said that he didn’t know about the different resources available to homeless youths until he ended up at CHGA and recommends others take advantage as well.
“I am so grateful for the resources I got at the Covenant house. The resources are there when you’re willing to look,” he said.
CHGA provides job and educational services to help youth get on their feet. CHGA offers shelter and services to more than 1,300 of Atlanta’s homeless and at-risk youths every year, according to their website.
Although the organization has sheltered and serviced more than 15,000 youths since 2000, the waiting lists at times are long, according to CHGA’s website.
Young People Matter (YPM) in Tucker, GA has helped over 6,000 youths and their families since founded in 2007, according to their website.
YPM is the only youth shelter in the Atlanta metro area where both male and females under 18 can take refuge anytime day or night in their 24 hour crisis beds, according to their website.
The center was scheduled to shut down its services on Sept. 30 because its federal funding was running out, according to their website.
Youth of YPM reached out to Atlanta producer Tyler Perry via social media and he donated money for the shelter to stay open according their website.
There is also Lost-n-Found Youth, who takes homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths up to age 26 off the street and transitions them into more permanent housing, according to their website.
Lost-n-Found Youth is Atlanta’s only nonprofit agency actively working to take homeless LGBTQ youths off the street, according to their website.
Through his experiences and determination, Santiago was able to save up and move into affordable housing.
He has recently bought a computer and is making payments on the money he owes. Santiago said he hopes to attend Georgia State by Fall 2015.
“I was homeless and I beat the odds. And I am so grateful,” he said.