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Teens' dreams delayed because of homelessness

5:25 PM, Jun 18, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you're a teenager, there are some things that are expected: your own bedroom, close friends and big dreams. 

"It has just been absolutely insane and you're supposed to stay positive," said Tabitha, "but sometimes it is just not possible."

Tabitha is 15 and she's homeless. It has been awhile since she has had a permanent address.

"Your home is a homeless shelter and you feel like you can't tell anybody that," she said.

Tabitha, her mom, sister and dad now live at the Sulzbacher Center. For a teenager who has always dreamed of becoming a dancer, her dream is being delayed by her living conditions. 

"When I first got here, they showed us the room. When they closed the door, I fell on the bed and cried," she said.

Tabitha and her sister Breanna are among 1,600 homeless students in Duval County. Sometimes, it is hard for these young people to grasp.

"I'm homeless. I wouldn't have told you I was going to be 15 and homeless when I was 14," she said.

The family moved to Jacksonville for employment opportunities but it was a bust. No job, no income, no way to pay for housing and the basic services.

"We had been without water for two months. We didn't have running water. We did what we had to do," said Wendi.

Facing an eviction, they reached out to the homeless shelter. It was the only option to keep everyone safe.

Wendi, 39, said the thought that homelessness happens to others and not them, entered her mind.

"It was surreal. You're walking around in a dream and it is not happening," she said.

Since being in the homeless shelter, her husband has been able to find a full-time job. Now they are looking into transitional housing. Tabitha and Breanna are doing well in school and they're trying to remain optimistic. They don't talk about being homeless with their fellow students. They believe it is a problem only a few really understand.

"People don't realize that this actually happens," said Tabitha, "You see the movies and the books, but you don't see the real life thing."

Betty Burney knows it happens. The former school board chairman has seen the numbers at the homeless student office at the school board.

"One homeless child is one child too many. We want to find ways to empower them," said Burney.

Burney is with the I'm a Star Foundation, which is made up of students, and they are targeting the problem of homeless children.

"Homeless children do not want to be pitied. They want opportunities," said Burney.

On July 27th the I'm A Star foundation is doing a series of events to raise money to fight the problem. First Coast News will be part of the effort on July 27th.

"We also want to be able to provide scholarships to young men and young ladies who find themselves in a homeless situation," said Burney.

Tabitha wants to go to dance school and doesn't have the money; a scholarship would help.

The I'm A Star Foundation and First Coast News are looking for real solutions to the problem of homeless kids and we are would like you the community to be part of the solution.

First Coast News

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