Sharayna: a Young Woman Who Experienced Homelessness and How She Turned Her Life Around
Among the 9,000 people across the country who participated in the development of Opening Doors, Sharayna, a young woman from Columbus who suffered years of abuse and lived on the streets, had a chance to share her perspective with federal officials during the process. With the help of the Coalition for Homelessness and Housing in Ohio ’s Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), she has turned her life around. Her perspective was so important, she was highlighted in Opening Doors.
Sharayna first arrived in Columbus, Ohio at 16, fleeing a history of parental abuse, mental illness, and the drug trade. During her adolescence, she moved around from one relative to another in Buffalo, NY and Columbus, but each time there continued to be more obstacles, more unstable living conditions, and dwindling funds to get by. She arrived in Columbus for the final time at 18 to get a fresh start away from the drug trade she was involved in, but had no identification, social security card, or birth certificate. She ended up homeless.
She stayed on the streets, at the local homeless shelter when there was room, and in cars. Because of the trauma of an unstable and abusive childhood, she was plagued by mental health issues that became barriers to her stability. Desperate for money, she agreed to steal a car for someone and was arrested. Upon hearing the details of Sharayna’s mental health problems and history of abuse and homelessness, the court ordered her into counseling and mental health treatment and she was released into a shelter.
It was at the shelter that she met Angela Lariviere, founder of YEP, which specializes in assisting unaccompanied youth who are homeless and not eligible for other state resources. Sharayna was enrolled in YEP’s pilot Youth Housing Program, and has continued to receive mental health counseling and earned her high school diploma. Although every day is a struggle, Sharayna has remained stably housed and healthy for the past 22 months while working with the YEP program. She has also enrolled in the local community college and just recently moved into her own apartment.
Sharayna continues to be involved as an advocate and advisor to YEP, working with the Youth Mental Health Committee, Supportive Employment Group and Housing Committee. She volunteers three days a week at YEP, determined to give back to the program that turned her life around and continues to assist her in so many ways. Most importantly, Sharayna now knows that she is not forgotten: “I now see that a whole mass of adults in my community and my government are working to help youth like me, and that there are adults who really care.”
In June 2010, her commitment and the success of YEP, led she and Angela to attend the launch of Opening Doors at the White House. Sharayna’s success is proof that interventions in and a focus on the lives of youth like Sharayna can produce sustainable outcomes and help vulnerable youths escape homelessness.