Authored by: Sarafina Shukuru, Intern from the Refugee Program
When I heard about an internship at the Refugee Center, a place that helps families from third world countries, I was excited about it. The internship implied working and the possibility of earning a grant. I took the offer without even knowing where they were going to hire me, but I am glad Salt Lake County Youth Services did!
A little about me. I’m from East Africa. I come from a small, but not so small country called Tanzania. I was a child, but I still remember my family and I going through many trials. We were in danger, so we had to move to a refugee camp. That’s when we met the United Nations (U.N). We needed to leave, it was a tough time for my nation.
We decided to go through a long process and finally came to America. I was 10 years old. It took three years to move to the United States, after going through questions and examinations. We were thankful, but the process continued as soon as we moved. They had more questions and exams to take when came in.
Fortunately, my dad could find a job within a month and my siblings started to go to school. I got lucky and actually graduated from High School in 2015. However, the relationship with my family was not the best and it got to a point in which they decided to kick me out.
Luckily, I got a friend who only wanted me to pay her 500 a month to stay at her place. I took the offer and everything went great until I started working. Things got intense. Since I wasn’t on the lease, I wasn’t able to get a key from my friend. I would come home late from work and she would be sleeping or sometimes not even home. One day I decided to give her most of my paycheck with the hope that she would give me a copy of the key. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
I decided to go Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, talked to a counselor and connected with a Transition Home Caseworker. I moved in. Things got easier, but after three months of working, they decided to let me go. I moved back home and started thinking about what I wanted to do. Maybe school? I didn’t have enough savings for that. I went back to work. While employed, I applied to a few scholarships but didn’t hear anything back.
Things at home were just getting worse, so I decided to leave. I went from couch to couch until Summer, when a Transition Home Manager told me about Volunteers of America (VOA). I used to think that homelessness was only for old people, but that was a myth. At VOA, I found out that there are many youths who like me, were going through all kinds of issues. I met a person that was going to school but didn’t have enough funds to pay for a room, some others were dealing with drugs, many were undocumented, and there was at least two people who aged out of foster care.
It was difficult to watch. It was hard because some of the youth didn’t want the help that was offered to them. VOA provides food, clothes, hygiene, and school items. I stayed there for about four months while attending school. The staff helped me with homework, advised me and provided the schools supplies that I needed for my classes. I passed the majority of my courses and failed only one. Without VOA, I know that my situation would have been worse and probably I would have been one of those sleeping outside.
I just think that poverty is a huge issue in today’s world. You never know when, but it could come to you. Any person could get evicted or fired at any minute, and all of the sudden a tent is all you have. Where do you turn to afterwards? Drugs. Many people sell them to earn a living. But once they are caught, they will be going to jail or a rehab center. Most of them can pay the fine, but then they try to get a job and they don’t get a call back because of the charges on file. It’s harsh what homeless people must go through.
How do you end homelessness? Experts says that homelessness in the state has been reduced by 91%. But how did it work? I think housing, transportation, support, and job connections. There is still a lot to be done, but Utah is heading in the right direction of getting people off the streets.