“I am not worthy. I am not loveable. I am not competent.”
These are the spoken words and underlying beliefs the Caritas of Austin Youth Program team witnesses daily in their work helping to end homelessness for young people in our city.
“With a lot of our young adults, the trauma is so fresh,” said Julie Rinas, Program Coordinator. “It’s such a betrayal when your parents say you can’t live with them anymore, tell you to go live in your car. Or you age out of foster care and are just dumped into life on your own. It is an incredibly vulnerable situation.”
Alma Gonzales is from the Houston area but was on the run trying to escape the foster care system. “I didn’t have a family for support. I was homeless and couch surfing. I ended up here in Austin and was living in a car,” she said. “I went through stuff that no one my age should have to go through. Being homeless, people steal from you, rob you, and even hold you at gun point.”
Regardless of who we are serving at Caritas of Austin, our work always begins with a stable place to call home. But having a program dedicated specifically to young people and their unique experiences has allowed the Caritas of Austin team to help rebuild well-being in a tailored way.
“There are very unique things in working with 18-24-year-olds. It’s such a time of transition: first serious relationships, first jobs, first time living on your own. And many of the youth we serve have not had role models for healthy relationships, learned how to pay bills, and other life skills. So, our Case Managers often fill that role,” said Rinas.
Alma and her fiancé, Christopher, found out they were expecting a baby during a period where they were sleeping in his car. Christopher’s car was towed, and they were left to sleep in a tent on the side of the road. Alma said she experienced tremendous stress during this time, knowing she needed to regain a stable home before her baby arrived.
“It was a race until her due date,” said Dana Curtis, Caritas of Austin Case Manager. Alma and Dana worked tirelessly as partners to find a home for the young family, as well as get connected to many other support services to help them regain a sense of stability moving forward. Alma moved into her apartment in September, just two months before the baby arrived.
“When I first got the apartment, I felt a big burden off my shoulders. I just kept thinking, now I have a place for my son,” said Gonzales.
On November 19th, Alma and Christopher welcomed their son – Christopher, or C.J., as they like to call him. They are sleep-deprived, but their hearts are full.
Because of your support, young families like Alma’s have the opportunity to build a safe, thriving life together with the foundation of a stable home. Your generosity helps to create many layers of support as these resilient young people work to reach their full potential.
“Alma has accomplished so much. She came in with so much energy and tenacity. I was just there to give her the roadway, and she was taking charge of a lot of it,” said Curtis. “When I first met her, she was living on the streets and now, seeing her in her home, it is a complete 180-degree turn. She had a lot of doors opened for her because she was knocking.”
As Alma reflects on the past year, she feels a sense of pride for all she has accomplished and now being able to provide for her son. She’s currently taking classes at Austin Community College and looking for work opportunities that will allow her to balance being a new mom. And she has a long-term goal of becoming a police officer.
At Caritas of Austin, we recognize the immensely positive change that takes place once people have their basic needs met. Often, they are able to start setting goals and dreaming big dreams for first time because they are now living and not just surviving. And those deep-rooted feelings of being unlovable, unworthy, or incompetent are challenged as these young adults receive consistent care, love, and support from the Caritas team. Most exit the program feeling empowered, transformed, and hopeful about the future.
Together, we can make this possible for more young people in 2022!