Water Color Depiction of Achinaye (credit: Adobe Firefly)
AYA centers itself on relationships. Our goal is to make sure that every young person we meet can get connected to housing and long-term stability – whether that be through AYA or community partners. One of the first steps we take is pursuing the health and well-being of both mind and body.
Physical health is incredibly important for young people experiencing homelessness. An unaddressed injured ankle could lead to a lingering limp, or an unwashed cut could cause a serious infection. Small cuts and bruises can lead to greater problems when the body does not have adequate food, water, and accessible showers.
Likewise, housing instability can take a serious toll on someone’s mental health. Sustained trauma can alter moods, social habits, irritability, and more. This can become a devastating cycle where homelessness causes deteriorated mental health which makes it harder to maintain adequate housing which causes homelessness which strains mental health, and so on and so on.
At AYA, our Comprehensive Health Initiative includes several avenues for AYA members to not only keep their physical health in check but also restore and maintain proper mental health. This includes free counseling, therapy, and access to testing to diagnose and learn about various mental health conditions – such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Depression, OCD, and more.
Achinaye (name changed for privacy) first learned about AYA while taking care of his mental health at a local mental health facility. A case worker told Achinaye about the work of AYA and how he believed it would be the best place for him to connect to ongoing resources. Not knowing anything about AYA, Achinaye decided to check it out, with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Achinaye was skeptical because he already had a lifetime of experience with various organizations and institutions, trying to find a path to stability. First facing housing instability as a toddler and eventually being put into foster care by age 9, Achinaye had lived in several counties, connected to a handful of non-profits, and lived in 21 foster homes.
For one reason or another, Achinaye could not find sustainable housing. After years of this transient lifestyle, unpacked trauma, and an undiagnosed mental health condition had a great impact on Achinaye’s peace and presence of mind. Achinaye was falling into the known cycle of homelessness which leads to further mental health concerns which leads to continued homelessness.
At the time Achinaye was introduced to AYA, he had already aged out of foster care and become aware of his Autism diagnosis. But neither of these factors would be a barrier for him at AYA.
AYA stands for As You Are. While this means something different for each member, for Achinaye, AYA means having your neurodivergence be accepted as you are.
AYA stands for As You Are. While this means something different for each member, for Achinaye, AYA means having your neurodivergence be accepted as you are. Achinaye’s autism was embraced and he started building a community amongst peers and advocates – many of whom had also been on a mental health journey and recovery. He was given the autonomy and dignity, with respect for his diagnosis, to start building his own future. He had therapists he could talk to, books to dive into, and quiet corners he could lean into his self-discovery. He started reflecting on how he viewed the world.
At the time, he was coming from a place of great cynicism. He used to think, “Why do I need a house? [With no bills], all my money stays in my pocket. I’m surviving out here [on the streets] anyway.”
But after many long talks with youth advocates, he came to an important conclusion: “Something needs to change.” He realized, “I wanted something more. A good paying job. To go on vacation. To go to Japan or see Giraffes in Africa. I couldn’t do any of that with how I was living. Something needed to change.”
Achinaye, full of determination, worked with AYA housing specialists and found stable housing through an AYA community partner. Achinaye has a stable income. Every day he goes to work, Achinaye is working towards his desired future. He is achieving stability.
Achinaye is a current member of AYA. Like Lesha, he is living in affordable housing, has a steady job, and is an active participant in the Youth Action Board – a local youth-led organization that advocates on behalf of young people experiencing homelessness. At AYA, Achinaye advocates for neurodivergent folks and continues to walk alongside new members at AYA through his humor, openness, and learned insight.