A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
"Pretty much it all started when I was 11, when I told my mom, 'It's either your boyfriend or me.' He, um, was abusing me, and I told my mom. She didn't want to believe me, and she chose him over me. It didn't help that at the age of ten, I told my mom I knew I was gay.
"I stole my sister's ID, and I ran away. I went from place to place, different friends' houses, till DCFS brought me back to my mom. I took off again right away. I rode around on the train. I would steal from stores to eat. I would sleep in parks in the summertime; in the wintertime, I would find abandoned buildings to sleep in.
"It's hard to be a female on the streets, to start off with, but to be a gay female was harder, because when I would tell a guy, 'No, I'm gay, I like girls, leave me alone,' it was, 'Oh well, I can change your mind.' 'Cause I started drinking at a very young age, so they would put stuff in my drink and do what they want with me.
"By the time I was 16, I was trying to reestablish a relationship with my mom. I was like, 'If she can put down the drugs, maybe I'll give her another chance.' But when I was 18, my mom passed away. She was murdered by her boyfriend.
"At the time my mom passed away, I was pregnant. In the back of my mind, I knew I liked girls. I didn't want to be with a guy. I was just trying to be accepted by my family. The person I'm with now is a female, and we're about to get married. We're living in an apartment. It's not an easy situation, but we're not homeless, so that's a positive.
"Back when I was struggling with a place to stay, this group called Stand Up for Kids would come out to Boystown and give us sack lunches, hats, and coats. After a while, they started a drop-in center, and I'm like, 'I want to be a part of that.' I went from being a participant to being a volunteer. I can communicate with the homeless youth better 'cause they know I'm not trying to judge them.
"Honestly, I don't tell them what to do. I just say, 'Whatever decisions you make, just know you're a strong person, and you can make it through.' It's easy to tell people what to do, but I'd rather hear somebody go, 'You're grown, make your decision.' People are more accepting when you give 'em a suggestion, and if they don't take it at first, don't get mad at 'em. You know what I'm saying? When you were a kid, honestly, did you like being told what to do?
"What I want to say to people who look at these homeless youth is, 'Don't judge a book by its cover, because you never know what went on in this child's home. You don't know what happens behind closed doors.' And to the youth, all I can say is, 'If I could do it, you can do it too.' I'm never ashamed of where I came from. My pain could be somebody else's power."