Carletta returns to the streets—to help other teens escape homelessness

offers homeless youth much more than hand warmers and hygiene packets

Even before I came to Crosswalk’s teen shelter I think I knew I would eventually end up there.

I was only 8 the first time my family became homeless. We got evicted. So, when we came home the front door was padlocked, so we climbed inside through a window and lived like squatters for a while—getting electricity from the neighbors with an extension cord and water from a hose through the window. Soon I looked around and we were sleeping in a shelter. 

My outlook on life turned very grim when that happened. I looked around and it seemed like living this way was something I had no chance of escaping.

That was when I started skipping school. By the time I was 10, I was drinking and smoking. At 12 I had moved on to harder drugs. I chopped off my hair, dyed it black, pierced my nose and started hanging out with older kids. 

When I was 14, I got kicked out of the place we were staying—my mom wasn't even there that night when they had me pack my stuff and go. She couldn’t take care of me anymore.

It was December 2007 and it was a really harsh winter. There was four feet of snow on the ground and I didn’t have bus fare. So I walked several miles in the dark to Crosswalk. When I got there I was soaked and exhausted. 

There were Christmas lights and stockings everywhere and people who cared. I felt right at home almost immediately. Someone on the staff put her arm around me and showed me where I could get showered and changed. I finally felt like maybe there was somewhere I could belong.

Over the next few years, I learned a lot from the staff at Crosswalk. They taught me how to take care of myself. I learned how to respect myself and be responsible. They taught me how to do my own laundry and helped me get back in school. The teacher at the Crosswalk school, Ken, was a huge influence on me. He motivated and pushed me toward the right path. 

Like lots of the other kids there, I was trying to accomplish something that everyone outside of Crosswalk made us feel like we couldn’t. I remember so many people—even adults whose job it was to care—made me feel like a lost cause. 

I hadn’t really gone to school since fifth grade. And I was kicked out of more schools than I’d like to admit. But the other kids there were in just as bad, if not worse, situations than me. And Ken and other staff helped me not feel so self-conscious about doing fifth-grade work. 

Helping me find a different life took time and patience from everyone at Crosswalk. They just keep encouraging you to do good and make better choices—no matter how bad and hopeless you may appear to others or even yourself. They helped me realize that the only way to change my life into something better was to do it myself.

When I was 17 I had stopped using drugs and got my GED. But things didn’t always go perfectly. When I got pregnant at 17, I knew I had to get my life together and fast.

More than anything, I wanted a great life for my son. So I got into college and started getting into the routine of paying bills and going to school. With some hard work, my son’s dad and I got into an apartment when I was 3 months along. I was finally able to be in a home of my own after almost a decade on the streets and in shelters.

Now that I’m a parent I realize how hard it really was for me and other at Crosswalk to have such a short childhood and be on your own at such a young age. That’s how I realized I want to give kids like me what I got from Crosswalk—I want to help other kids find their way out. When you’re homeless, you think that nobody cares about all the kids down there. But Crosswalk does. And I do.

Carletta currently works part-time for our Youth Reach mobile outreach team where she spends evenings finding homeless kids in parks and under bridges. She gives them something to eat, points them to resources and makes sure they know someone cares. Her goal is to get another part-time job and finish a bachelor’s in social work—so she can work at Crosswalk.

Learn more about Carletta and her outreach work in the Dec 2013 Inlander feature “Where are all the children?”.