May 17, 2012
Guest Blog: "Demand More—Demand a Home"
[Ed. note: This post is part of a series of blog posts Juvenile Law Center will be publishing during National Foster Care Month to call attention to issues facing foster youth who are aging out of the system.]
My name is Christopher, I am 21 years old, and I have never had a home. I do have your attention now, though, which seems to be a pale compromise for the first sentence. In 21 years I have lived in 13 different places, seven of which were during my stay in care. According to my current landlord, "Permanent Residence" is established by things like living in a place for two or more weeks and receiving mail at that location. I've had 13 of those, and when I sat down to type this I realized that this is precisely how I define home. It's not for the comfort level and certainly not for the people in it, but whether I've managed to be there for more than two weeks and can receive mail.
I don't think I've had a real home in my entire life.
It may have been because of my misinterpretation of what home meant that my path through the system went the way it did. From inpatient treatment facilities to a "shelter," which gets quotation marks because it was no different from the detention center it was attached to, to a group home (or two, because they were two different group homes by the same organization), I never really made much effort toward establishing an actual home. My bed was my bed, and my belongings rarely found their way out of the bags they came in. From bouncing around my entire life, I'd found the ultimate coping mechanism—apathy.
Looking back on it, what I wish was different was purely internal. I wish I'd been strong enough to care about where I was going, and how comfortable I'd be when I got there. The key to being a "good kid" was, to me, managing to stay at whichever permanent residence I ended up at for as long as possible. Don't complain, don't ask for anything, keey your head down and when someone asks you to raise it you smile at them and say everthing is fine in your most convincing voice. Remember to smile.
Maybe I could blame it on the medications I was on (they were my daily reminder to smile, after all) but I doubt that was really it. I didn't want to care because if I'd looked at the fact that home was just whichever bed my trash bags full of clothes were stuffed under, I'd have gotten just a little upset about it. Maybe I wish someone had told me it was alright to be upset.
I'm 21 years old and I still haven't had a home. But there is that little compensation I mentioned earlier—I have your attention. What I want you to know, whether you are a youth currently in the system or recently aged out or just someone not having the best time in life right now is this: Be strong enough to be upset about it. Please. Being upset does not mean you are a bad person; it just means that there is something you want that you are not getting. For me, that was a home. I don't see why anyone should have to smile about that.