After recounting in her head the almost countless times she moved during her childhood, Ariana seems a bit surprised herself. “I hadn’t really thought about it until now,” she admits, “but this is the longest I’ve been in one spot since about sixth grade.”
Ariana, now 20, is one of several tenants of St. Vincent de Paul’s Girls Youth House who will soon complete their two-year residencies and move on to the next phase of their lives. After entering the program as unaccompanied minors between the ages of 16 and 18, they’ll exit it as young adults better equipped to achieve stable housing and employment; to pursue education and training opportunities beyond high school; and to confidently create stable lives in which homelessness or near-homelessness exist only as memories.
Ariana didn’t experience chronic, unsheltered homelessness the way increasing numbers of unaccompanied teens do — but she did endure years of instability within her family and her housing situation.
After her father’s deportation to Mexico when she was in the fifth grade, Ariana, her four younger sisters (all U.S.-born), and their mother also went to live there. Ariana returned after about six months in Mexico and lived with her aunt in Junction City for almost two years, then with another aunt in California.
That’s when doors in her life really began revolving.
“I came back to Oregon later on in my eighth-grade year and went back to live with my aunt here,” she says. “Then I lived in my grandma’s house, and then with my mom for a little bit, and then my uncle’s house, then I lived with a friend, then my other uncle’s house, then I went with my friend and then I went to my grandma’s until it wasn’t a good place to be anymore. And then I came here. It was stressful … it was a lot.”
All along, Ariana says, her mother’s substance addiction combined with sometimes serious infighting within her extended family to keep her on the move, always worried about the safety and care of her younger sisters, struggling to succeed in school.
“I was going through so much when I was younger, my freshman year I got really bad grades,” she recalls. “I was always stressed about something else, like my mom, how she was always disappearing for a couple of days and wasn’t taking care of my sisters, and then I’d get in trouble too because I was angry.”
New chance for stability
Fast-forward to today, and Ariana has her high-school diploma and works two jobs, all while living in stability, safety, and comfort with her own rent-free studio dormitory room and case-management support at The Youth House. Her sisters, meanwhile, are in a good situation living with their Junction City-area aunt.
“Finally after all these years, I can start to relax,” Ariana says.
SVdP’s Youth & Family Services program opened The Youth House in south Eugene in 2018, to provide a secure and supportive home environment for as many as 13 female-identifying teens as they prepare for a life without homelessness. Residents like Ariana each sign a two-year lease to live at The Youth House, where they can save money, complete school, build a positive rental history, and work with case managers who provide guidance, resource referrals, and practical assistance to improve their chances of becoming successful young adults.
“They help out a lot here,” Ariana says. “I really appreciate The Youth House for helping me and pushing me and giving me a place to stay at for the past two years. I wouldn’t know what to do if it wasn’t for the help I got here.”
She encourages other youth in need of help to learn more about The Youth House, as well as teens’ teachers, counselors, friends, family members and others who might be in position to recognize the need and refer them to the program.
“It’s a really good place, and if you can follow a few rules, you’ll be fine,” Ariana says. “People should really take advantage of living here for two years with the lease they have. You get to save up money for two years, you get help, and when you’re off on your own you have like a two-year jumpstart.”
Push in the right direction
Ariana says one thing she has appreciated most about her time at The Youth House is “that I actually get a little push to get things done. I don’t have anyone else to push me to do anything.”
For example, soon after she moved in, staff helped her through the process of applying for her passport. Program funds were even made available to cover the fee; staff are often able to arrange modest types of financial assistance like this for residents. Ariana received her passport last year and hopes that it will allow her to visit her dad soon, for the first time in more than a decade.
In the meantime, she’s focused on working and saving money for her first apartment. She needs to make preparations for moving out around the first week of August, at the end of her lease. She also hopes to continue her education at Lane Community College starting in the fall, possibly studying criminal justice.
During her stabilizing stay at The Youth House, Ariana has also gained some of the maturity and perspective needed to restore the relationship with her mother. “She was a good mom, and she cares … but she’s gone through a lot too, and now I understand.”
Through that example, and through the example modeled for her at The Youth House, it’s also clear that Ariana understands — probably better than most her age — what it will take for her to sustain stability at home and in life, throughout her adulthood.
That will serve her well as she prepares to venture out on her own into a hopeful future filled with new possibilities but, preferably, precious few revolving doors.
Community members can help local youth experiencing homelessness by making a financial contribution or donating needed material items to SVdP’s Youth House. To get started, please click here:Donate to Youth House Learn More About Youth House