Ramirez, an Oakley resident, was a homeless youth himself in 2010. After his family suffered a series of financial and emotional hardships, they were evicted from their home, and Ramirez and sister Vanessa found themselves without a place to stay. Ramirez, then 16, and his sister, 13, spent months bunking with friends doing whatever they could to stay hopeful during a difficult time.
“It was hard to admit that we were homeless,” Ramirez said. “My sister still resents the term, but we had no permanent residence. Luckily we had friends who were willing to take us in for days or weeks at a time, but I always felt like a burden. I was putting stress on the family taking me in. I was another mouth to feed. It was a horrible feeling.”
The stress took a toll on his grades, and teachers and staff at Freedom High School began to take notice. Active in Leadership and other school activities, Ramirez became withdrawn and his GPA began to tank.
Freedom High government and economics teacher Fidel Garcia was aware of Ramirez’s crisis, invited him to stay with his family and gave him money to help pay for his college applications. Ramirez went on to become valedictorian of his class of 2011 and receive a full-ride scholarship to Georgetown University, where he recently completed his freshman year. He’s currently studying political science with an emphasis on justice and peace.
Looking back on his days as a homeless teen, Ramirez believes the experience ultimately made a positive impact on his life. “It was really a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I ended up with a whole new family, and it brought my sister and me closer together. If someone is going through a similar situation, I would tell them to stay strong. It will get better. This experience will make you stronger. You can learn from this and use your experiences to help others.”
And that is exactly what Ramirez is doing. While the California Homeless Youth Project typically gives internships to college seniors and graduate students, Ramirez’s story touched Project Director Shahera Hyatt. Ramirez joined the California Homeless Youth Project last month as a social media intern, where he maintains the organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages. He also contributes to the Project’s blog at www.cahomelessyouth.tumblr.com.
The California Homeless Youth Project is a research and policy initiative of the California Research Bureau supported by funding from the California Wellness Foundation. As a part of the team, Ramirez is working toward creating policy that will make youth homelessness a thing of the past.
“People don’t realize that teen homelessness is a problem, especially out in this area,” Ramirez said. “You’d be surprised to know how common my story is. This is a great place to raise a family, but there are a lot of families who are struggling.
“The thing is: there are so many resources available to people in need. If they could all just come together for a common good, homelessness wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s going to take some time to get all these different community groups and service providers together before we see any changes. We have to remember that these are our kids. They are the future. We’re the United States. These children deserve better.”
Ramirez will return to Georgetown University in August to resume his classes. As a sophomore, he’ll continue to take on a full course load as well as volunteer time to tutor inner-city youth. After completing his undergraduate studies, he hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in public service.