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To be treated like family. To be seen as an investment and not as a burden. As a youth with promising potential rather than just another statistic.

– Ainsley


My name is Ainsley and I am 22 years old. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My biological father left before I was born. He and my mother had some issues they couldn’t work out. I was a very curious child, always asking questions. Always seeking answers; attempting to understand the world and myself.

My stepfather and I never got along. We fought a lot, physically and verbally. I remember getting suspended from school in second grade because I kept correcting the teacher for grammatical and syntax errors in her sentences. I came home that day and my stepfather told me to go outside and pick a branch off of the tree for him to beat me with. I procrastinated until finally I went outside and picked the tiniest, thinnest, branch I could find. This angered him and he went back outside and picked this huge branch and he took the stems and the leaves off and beat me with it until it broke in two, then he used the buckle of his belt until he was too tired to lift his arm anymore.

It was a constant war zone in my house. Home wasn’t home.

Home was just a space I inhabited, a place I went because I had nowhere else to go. I felt most comfortable and found more solace in the local library than in my own living room. There I could experience serenity and insight. I ate a lot as a child and my stepfather didn’t like this very much. So he installed padlocks on the refrigerator and deep freezer we had in our kitchen. My parents would leave for work and I would be starving. So I had to find a way to make money in order to eat. 

At the age of 14, I started performing on the subway trains in Manhattan. Initially, I made little to no money, but I practiced day in and day out and eventually I got better; a lot better. I started to rake in hundreds of dollars a day. I think it’s also important to note that at this time and still currently it is considered illegal to perform on the trains in New York City. I was arrested fourteen times for doing this. I was never charged or convicted because it isn’t a crime.  It’s a violation.

I had dreams of attending college away from home, away from the noise, the violence, the gangs. I wanted to learn in tranquility. But my parents wouldn’t spend a dime on my education, and not because they were unable to, but because I was more useful at home. At home with my mom and stepdad, I was coerced into giving them all my money.

I began to save the money I earned from dancing. I applied to Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, NY and a month after receiving notification of my acceptance my parents kicked me out knowing I had only three months until I started school. I was 17. So, I would house-hop and find fast food restaurants and 24-hour cafes to sit down in until the afternoon when I could hit the trains and make some money. Eventually, I was able to save up a little over $2,000 and my Aunt cosigned a loan for me to get into Mohawk Valley Community College.

I got in and I did great, I was heavily involved and I finished with a 3.9 GPA. During my time there I tutored students and I was a Resident Assistant, and I was also the NY Regional President of Phi Theta Kappa (an international honor society).

Unfortunately, I had to drop out because I couldn’t afford the tuition anymore. I transferred to Brooklyn College. I came back home, and stayed at my parent’s house for a while. I certainly didn’t wish to be there but I had nowhere else to go. I was completely out of options.

A day before I started at Brooklyn College my parents bought a house in Queens and told me that I wasn’t welcomed there and that I could not live with them. I was homeless once again.

I admitted myself into the DHS intake center, which is the central processing unit for homeless individuals in New York and was subsequently transferred to the McGuinness Men’s Shelter in Long Island City, NY. I stayed there until I couldn’t bear it anymore. It might have been one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had and McGuinness was supposedly one of the “nicer” adult shelters. There were thirty people to a room, older men, most with disabilities, drug addictions, criminal histories, and psychological disorders. I slept with my wallet in my pocket and my phone in my hand. The residents smoked cigarettes in the bathroom showers, dealt drugs in the stalls, and there were used syringes in the sink. It was terrifying.

I spoke with a woman. I forget her name but she identified herself as my caseworker and she told me it could be months, perhaps even years before I could receive a housing voucher or be placed into supportive housing. Two days after that I left and I never went back. I stayed in motels for three days with money I had saved. I did research on homeless shelters and I found the Covenant House in NYC. I reached out to them and was informed that because I was 21 years old turning 22 on April 9th, I didn’t meet the age eligibility requirement and they referred me to the Covenant House in New Jersey.

The first person I met was Ms. Edego. I explained my situation to her and she was more than understanding. Fortunately, a bed was available. The Covenant House made sure that I had everything I needed within reason. I came to the Covenant House New Jersey on February 11, 2017 and during my time there the staff was very helpful and accommodating. I felt safe and valued. I traveled from New York City to Newark every day. I was in school studying theatre, working a part-time job, and auditioning for roles. I was always busy and the staff understood and did what they could to help or make things easier and more manageable.

John Copeland worked with me directly to transition me into affordable living and by March 15th I had my own apartment in Irvington, NJ. I’m currently enrolled in a Patient Care Technician medical program and I’m a Lead Stock Associate at Reiss in the Westfield World Trade Center in Manhattan. Covenant House New Jersey has really opened doors for me. I’m not residing here anymore but they are still committed to doing anything possible to ensure I have the tools I need to succeed and become a productive member of society. One example of that is the Driver’s Ed program, which assists youth in obtaining their permit and then their Basic Driver’s License. I don’t know that I would ever have been able to take advantage of such an opportunity elsewhere.

To be treated like family. To be seen as an investment and not as a burden. As a youth with promising potential rather than just another statistic.

To be treated like family. To be seen as an investment and not as a burden. As a youth with promising potential rather than just another statistic. I do hope that Covenant House can continue to provide these services to youth who are in need. And I hope to empower underprivileged and socioeconomically disadvantaged youth the way that Covenant House has empowered me.

Are you a youth in need of help?

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