Water Color Depiction of Ezekiel (credit: Adobe Firefly)

It’s important to note that these are just 3 stories of the roughly 600 unique youth we walked alongside this year. Their collective story drives AYA’s work and informs our next steps. It is why we continue to build on our tried and true practices while simultaneously crafting innovative pathways – pathways that reduce barriers and help youth receive the necessary resources and housing to achieve stability.

In speaking with hundreds of youth a year, we see some youth who think their housing instability is all of their fault when actually, none of it is. Additionally, some youth think none of it is their fault when in reality, they have contributed to their housing instability. 

Sometimes housing instability can be exacerbated by continued unsafe choices made by youth, such as substance abuse, poor time management, lack of soft skills, etc. But, housing instability happens to youth due to external forces as well. For example, we know that there continues to be an overrepresentation of Black individuals experiencing homelessness. For AYA, 43% of AYA youth are black, yet black individuals only represent 10.8% of the Kent County population. This can be caused by several contributing factors – all outside of the youth’s control, such as generational poverty, systemic injustices within the housing market, and discriminatory practices in school and work.

Ezekiel faced housing instability due to both external forces and choices he made himself.

Ezekiel never felt fully comfortable at home. Experiencing emotional abuse, Ezekiel left when he was 18 seeking independence and his own identity – greatly optimistic and excited about this new chapter. He found an ideal apartment for rent via Craiglist and began settling in. However, housing prices began to rise, and he was no longer able to afford his apartment and had to move out. Finding another room for rent, he quickly moved into something more affordable. But then his hours got cut, and housing prices increased again, and this time there were even fewer options available and even less within his means. Still, he managed to find something and was able to maintain his independent housing. 

After a few years, the depression he had been battling for the last decade began affecting his daily routine. He was no longer motivated to work and eventually lost his job. Without his job, he could not afford his room and was forced to move out. At age 23, Ezekiel became homeless.

Ezekiel’s depression created a sense of resignation as he moved from place to place, sleeping under bridges, in nearby woods, and on alleyway vents for the slightest warmth. This was an incredibly difficult time for Ezekiel.

One day, Ezekiel saw some people walking, passing out food and water. When Ezekiel approached them, they turned out to be from AYA and invited him to the AYA Drop-in Center.

“I was so thankful. I was able to find a job again, and AYA helped me with bus passes and a place to store my belongings…”

This began a turning point for Ezekiel. “I was so thankful. I was able to find a job again, and AYA helped me with bus passes and a place to store my belongings. Usually, I would have to worry about my stuff, and it would be outside hidden somewhere.”

At AYA, Ezekiel had secure lockers to store his possessions. He worked with a community partner and was able to take some job training courses and be placed in a well-paying factory job. He spoke with a youth advocate who was able to provide him with bus passes and a bike that would make getting to work easier. Ezekiel was working on his future and finding motivation again.

But the road to stability is not always a straight trajectory. Suffering a mental health breakdown, Ezekiel made some unsafe choices which resulted in him being jailed for some time.

However, he would find that AYA (As You Are) also means accepting young people for who they are, regardless of their criminal record. At AYA, he was able to begin the process of working towards stability again – meeting with therapists to unpack his depression and conflict resolution skills, getting reconnected to employment opportunities, and most importantly, speaking with AYA’s Supportive Housing team. Ezekiel moved into an AYA home where he resides to this day.

Ezekiel is now considered a leader amongst the youth in AYA housing and has opened up about his experience with mental health and how he continues to live in stability. He is open about mistakes he’s made and how he works to better himself in spite of them. Ezekiel is building his own future.