It’s that time of year, when high school seniors are anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters in the mail. Whether a teen is housed or experiencing homelessness, so much is up in the air.
Shayna*, whose family has been in HFI’s shelter and now lives in permanent housing, shared with us the essay she wrote for her college applications. Her words are powerful and shed light onto the experiences that cause many of our families to experience homelessness.
I was born in Haiti and came to the United States in 2009 at the age of eight. I remember that life in Haiti was amazing. My father was a wealthy business owner. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She and my father married when she was 16 and he was 25. However, my family’s story does not end in Haiti and does not end happily ever after.
When my father heard my 19-year-old mother was pregnant, he was not happy. He had already begun to be physically and verbally abusive towards my mother, and her pregnancy only made matters worse. He started beating my mother in public, which I think was because he was insecure. Either way, the abuse broke my mother both physically and emotionally.
My father never touched me or hit my mother in front of us, but my older siblings were beaten bloody. When I was five years old, I remember how furious he became at my mother. I remember how overpowering he looked as he pushed me out of the room. As I walked away, I heard punches being thrown and my mother’s terrified screams. My father had been my biggest hero, but now I could not look at him the same. I was scared of him.
Then one night everything changed. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. My siblings and I, along with my mother, had an amazing night. We talked, laughed, teased each other, and just had a good time/ (my father was usually not present during these moments). Later, I remember waking up to my mother’s frightened screams. My father was in a rage and screaming.
The next morning we woke up for school. My mother was not there to help me with my morning routines. The maid helped me with my uniform and hair. Our driver picked us up from school. Usually it was my mother and the driver, but this day, oddly, it was just the driver. I came home and ran to my mother’s room, but it was locked. My mother was inside crying. I tried unlocking the door, but I couldn’t because my father had left with the key. He didn’t want my mother to escape. I remember sitting outside the door, doing my homework and at that moment I broke down. My mother is everything to me.
The next morning the same thing happened. My mother wasn’t there to see me off to school. On the third day, the door was unlocked so I was able to see my mother, and she did not look like herself. A part of her face was swollen, one of her eyes was bloodshot, parts of her hair were torn off, and her body had bruises all over it. All I could do at that moment was cry. My mother came to get me at school that afternoon with sunglasses on and a new hairstyle. She was unrecognizable.
That day we escaped from home and went to my aunt’s house. My father had plans to have us kidnapped. In Haiti, you can do anything if you have money, right or wrong. I remember people picking us up and telling us to lie flat in the back seats of their car. We went to a domestic violence shelter. I started going back to school right around finals, failed, and did not move on to the next grade. We were trying to get to America, but my father had blocked us from leaving the country. Lucky for my mother, she knew people too. I truly believe that God was on our side. Through my mother’s connections, we were unblocked from leaving the country. The next day we left Haiti and the rest of our family behind.
Coming to America was not easy. We were homeless, staying with various friends in Florida. I remember I had a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers for the whole school year, and one of them had a hole at the bottom. Kids made fun of me, but that did not stop me from wearing them. Eventually we moved to Boston, living in different people’s homes, and eventually we moved into a shelter. After the shelter, we moved into the projects. The transition from a lavish lifestyle in her homeland to poverty in a foreign country broke my mother down mentally, emotionally, and physically. That being said, because of what she endured, I am blessed with strength and opportunity. Sharing the story of where I come from and why I am here today is important because that is what makes me the strong, black young lady she is today.
*While her story is true, Shayna’s name has been changed to protect the privacy of her and her family