Teens share their stories
Cara, 18, of Grove City, said the last time she had a stable home was when she was in the ninth grade. But then her mother began using meth and got in trouble with the law, said Cara, who estimates she's stayed at about 20 different places tempor...
Cara, 18, of Grove City, said the last time she had a stable home was when she was in the ninth grade.
But then her mother began using meth and got in trouble with the law, said Cara, who estimates she's stayed at about 20 different places temporarily over the past four years. Cara did not want to give her last name.
She said she wished there was a shelter house in the area just for homeless youth.
The first time Raven Daak became homeless was when she was 12 years old. Her father kicked her out of their Litchfield home, she said.
Daak did return home after a couple months and spent the next fours years in what she called "living hell." When she was 16 years old, she left home for good.
She found temporary refuge with friends who had parents willing to let her stay at their homes.
"I moved from house to house," she said, to towns like Hutchinson and Glencoe.
Now 20 years old, Daak blames her parents for not being there for her and her siblings.
But she knows she has made mistakes too, like getting involved with drugs and stealing a car when she was almost 18 that put her in jail for 10 days. It was a wake-up call, she said.
She is now two years into her recovery from drug addiction, which she said she's done on her own.
Thanks to assistance from the transitional housing program, she now has an apartment in Willmar and is attending school at Ridgewater College.
"She wants more out of life than what's given her," said Corie Haverly, a youth outreach worker with Lutheran Social Services, who beams as she listens to Daak's story of successfully climbing out of trouble.
People need to "believe" in youth who struggle through life and become homeless, said Haverly. Without anyone to believe in them, she said kids are going to stay stuck at the bottom forever.
Brandon O'Der, 20, just got out of jail. He is now homeless and has no family in Minnesota.
"I don't have a place to go," he said. "I walk a lot."
Being a felon and not having a place to sleep makes it difficult for him to get a job, which makes it difficult for him to pay for his legal fines and fees, including the $22 cost for court-ordered random drug tests, which could land him in jail again.
"It's a catch-22," he said.
He wants to live with his mother on the East Coast but probation requirements prevent him from leaving Minnesota, he said.
Given that, he'll likely continue to be homeless in Willmar. He spends occasional nights with friends but doesn't want to wear out his welcome, so he'll likely do a lot more walking.
One thing Stephanie Wandersee, 18, said she doesn't like is that adults view her and other youth who are on their own or homeless as "a horrible person."
She said, "You can just see that burning in their eyes."
But the reality is that kids who are homeless are "just scared," said Wandersee, who now has an apartment in Willmar but said being homeless again is a possibility for her future.
Being scorned by the public is nothing but hurtful, she said. "We all have feelings. We all bleed. We're all the same."
Expressive and determined, Wandersee said if even a couple of people open up their minds about homeless kids, "there can be change."
Quietly, she added, "Don't give up on us."
On and off for about a year, Erica was homeless in Willmar.
She and her boyfriend used meth and would sleep wherever they could.
Erica (who did not want her last name used) said they spent quite a bit of time in the garage of a friend.
On New Year's Eve of 2005, the couple realized they had nothing and would never have a home to call their own if they continued to use drugs.
On that night they quit cold turkey.
A patient family member let them stay in his home while they worked the meth out of their system.
With the support of Corie Haverly, a youth outreach worker with Lutheran Social Services and the transitional housing program, Erica got a job and her own apartment and said she would never use drugs again.
She also has a healthy, bright-eyed baby.
The turn-around in her life happened in part because of self determination, but also because people like Haverly were there to keep nudging her in the right direction.
Haverly helped Erica get job applications, drove her to job interviews, helped her get her driver's license and was like Jiminy Cricket sitting on her shoulder encouraging her to do what was right.
Without that support, Erica said, it would have been easy to go back to drugs and being homeless.
Erica's response to her new life was: "Pinch me. It can't be real."