Hey everyone, its Anissa here! For those of you who may not know I am the Youth Systems Navigator for TAY Oceanside! TAY Oceanside is a drop-in and outreach program for youth experiencing instability in North County San Diego. A week ago, I drove down to St. Vincent’s Shelter to help do a supply drop off to help our young participants. I got lost in the drive, I got lost in my mind, as I reflected deeply on this year. I realized how drastically my life has changed. How I went from a participant to an employee. On the 18th of November, I celebrated my one year work anniversary working with TAY and being a part of the YMCA Youth & Family Services (YFS) family at the Y. Crazy to think that my journey with YFS started in 2016 after I graduated from Pasadena Community College and transferred to Cal State San Marcos. I know what some of you may think, what does any of this have to do with youth homelessness?
When I was homeless in my car alone while my mother was fighting for her sobriety in the hospital after a 10-year heroin run, I never realized how my homelessness affected me. How could I know that when people had called me strong, resilient, and resourceful over the course of my journey, what that meant? When you’re young, you google these words, and you look at these definitions and find yourself pondering. You think, how could homelessness make me all these things? How could surviving a broken (duplicative) system like child welfare have given me a transferable skill? I spent months crying myself to sleep at night. I was failing two classes my first semester and all I wanted to do was run home to Los Angeles. Why? Because I had already mastered that beautiful beast. Because my whole life only consisted of chaos and pain. I only knew a fast-paced life to always be in survival mode. Every morning, my goal was to get through the day and hopefully see the next day.
Through time, I learned I never realized my whole life I was in survival mode. I spent almost two decades of my life analyzing every situation with my “fight, flight, or freeze” mode activated. They say those of us who experienced foster care have the same levels of post-traumatic stress disorder as war veterans. I remember the first time I heard that statistic. It was the missing puzzle piece to the many unsolved puzzles of my past. It made sense. I was young, broken, prideful, and with mental health diagnoses I could barely understand. I spent years blaming myself for my mother’s choices. I spent years thinking something was wrong with me, just to learn every response I felt was normal. Of course I was depressed and shut down the first 6 months after living in a car for over a year.
To the youth that could be reading this, to other providers, and the Y family: I do not do this line of work for the money. I do this work because I want the amazing faces out there to know that they are not alone. To the youth out there: I want you to know that without your voice and without your dreams, this work means nothing. I want you to know that just because we carry certain job titles, it does not mean that we do not share common ground. A team of heroes requires specialized skills, and trust me, education does not take all the credit. I want you to know that WE truly advocate for you all. I wake up every morning preparing myself for the new things you will teach us. I go to sleep every night thinking about how we can do better for you all. We are constantly growing and evolving. Adulting is the hardest thing you can do in life, but I want you to believe that this is the most beautiful part of your life. It is NEVER too late for anything, or any dream! They call us survivors, but I call us Warriors. Our stories weave together to create a beautiful canvas that allow us to raise awareness around our obstacles. I want you to know that YOUR story is yours to tell and nobody else’s; You get to decide who you will be, not what they tell you can’t be. They told me I would be everything that I am not. I am here today making sure that I meet you all exactly where you are all at. The one thing I stayed true to was myself, even when I didn’t understand myself. I was authentic even when my insecurities were screaming at me day in and day out.
To read more of Anissa's letter to the YMCA, please click here.
To learn more about the Y’s work to end youth homelessness, visit www.ymcasd.org/yfs.