What it Takes to Beat a Dysfunctional Family, Foster Care, Homelessness, and Poverty

By  Michael Gallardo, Youth Moving On intern

Some people never make it. My father never made it: neither did my mom. I have seven sisters and five brothers and know the foster care system like the days of the week. My life has a lot of twists and turns and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell my whole story.

What I can explain is how I got here: 21 with my own apartment, two jobs, and happy. It wasn’t overnight. It wasn’t easy. There were times I gave up, I starved, I was homeless, and I couldn’t do anything but cry. At times I was stuck, stagnant, undetermined, unmotivated, un-me.

My journey began in high school, when I read a book, “The Parable Of The Sower,” by Octavia Butler where the protagonist creates a new bible for her new religion in a post- apocalyptic world. The first verse of this bible was: “Everything you touch, you change, and everything you change, changes you.” Being in a foster home at the time, I took that to heart. I started to realize that my actions were, in some way, the result of my friends’ and family’s actions. My happiness was decided by the level of happiness my circle of friends/family had—and they didn’t have much.  I saw that I needed to change my environment.

However, it wasn’t until I graduated, went to college, got my first apartment, forgot my priorities, became homeless, and hit rock bottom that I realized the enormous effort it would take to get on my feet.

Last fall, I was living at my second apartment under the Self Independent Living Program (S.I.L.P.), while attending East Los Angeles College. I was loving it! Going to college, paying my bills and working on music became my life. However, I was turning 21 soon, which meant I would no longer receive the S.I.L.P. funding, which was my only source of income. So on my 21st birthday, I moved out of my apartment with no money, no savings, and nowhere to go. I went to my dad’s, and that was where I hit rock bottom.

The plan was to find a job so I could pay rent. I got on general relief and procrastinated for months. At the time my older brother had passed rock bottom. He was a meth addict, which was traumatic enough, but then he started to burglarize. He coerced me to join him, and I hesitantly took part in destroying my own life as well as his. This eventually led to us being at odds and the relationship being cut off. He became homeless and is now locked up in prison. My pops and I couldn’t take each other much more after that and I had to leave.

I was able to work out a plan where I would spend every day looking for resources, and sleep at one of two sisters houses at night. The initial resource I had at the time was my phone, which I used to find out about Youth Moving On (YMO), a program of Hillsides in Pasadena. I walked into their Peer Resource Center, filled out an intake form, signed in, and got some food (absolutely free!). I met a youth advocate who told me that Youth Moving On offers a transitional housing program for former foster youth and that they hold an orientation every Thursday. I was also told of a workforce development program free for foster youth.

I started attending the workforce classes and was awarded a LA Chamber Of Commerce certificate of workforce readiness. At the same time, I applied for YMO’s affordable housing program and got in. I also found a job at Vons as a courtesy clerk and a second one as a paid intern at Youth Moving On, where I promote the program through social media to help as many youth as possible.

Looking back, I was able to accomplish my goals due to persistence. I just had to accept my potential and thrive. For any other youth out there in a position like I was once in, I have this advice: Take the opportunities that life throws your way. Don’t sell yourself short. I was able to change my life dramatically by embracing my challenges and taking advantage of my opportunities. When you put in the effort, it’s only a matter of time.

Just a few months ago, I was homeless, unemployed, and directionless. I know my challenges aren’t over. I invite them. Being able to get through tough situations builds resilience, and if it’s one thing I am, it’s resilient.

Learn more about our YMO program at www.youthmovingon.org.


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