|Photos by Tina Dela Rosa|
Lawrence Cross, who goes by “Boogie,” was 12 when his mother’s pimp kicked him out of the house. He sat down with DCAYA to talk about his experience and what he thinks the District can do to help youth get on their feet.
Join Boogie and DCAYA at the 10 Year Anniversary and meet the inspiring young man who is using his life story to advocate for homeless youth. More about the DCAYA 10 Year Anniversary.
The following interview has been edited for length.
When you were on the street, did you meet other kids like yourself?
Yes, I met a lot of people that were actually homeless at my age. I didn’t know there would be homeless people my age. You got to think like, there are other kids out here whose not even teenagers yet, we’re out here on our own trying to make it through life by ourselves with nobody helping us.
A lot of homeless youth when they get put out, they turn to the gang life because that’s the most comforting thing you can see as a family or as a stable place. When you see the gang life, what are you promised? Oh you’re promised, “We’re gonna love you, we’re gonna feed you, give you somewhere to sleep, give you this, give you that.” You end up in the gang life and never end up getting out.
Was there ever a time when you found yourself in a dangerous situation that could have been avoided if there was a safe place to sleep and food to eat?
Whoow, there are a lot. I’ve been through the ringer. There was one situation where me and my brother was trying to find a place to sleep. One night, we got to this one place and this man told my brother to come in the room with him, but me, I thought we was just going there to sleep ,so I went to sleep.
When I woke, come to find out, he had molested my brother. Then a month or two later, he molested me. So I believe if there was more outreach programs or more people to help us, we wouldn’t have had been in that situation and we wouldn’t have been molested in that way.
What kind of difference do you think more street outreach programs can make for you and your friends?
They could have been a lot of help. There was a lot of young [homeless] men but also a lot of young females and a lot of young females was prostituting themselves just to have somewhere to sleep or just to have something to eat at the end of the day. And young men were going out robbin’ and stealin’ and hurting people just to make food or make somewhere to sleep at night. If there was more places for youth to go, I think the homelessness problem would really go away. If you give us somewhere to sleep and somebody to talk to help us with our problems, we can go far. Like, a lot of homeless youth get locked up just to get somewhere to sleep, take a shower and eat.
Have you seen that firsthand?
I’ve been arrested probably like 10 – 15 times and probably 11 to 12 of those time I was arrested just to go take a shower and get something to eat. Even though it was just a sandwich it was better than walking around not eating anything.
From your perspective, why don’t you think more people know that there are homeless youth out there?
When you hear the word homelessness you think of people sleeping outside, dirty and unclean. You don’t think of homeless people as someone who’s going to school every day having good grades, but when he leaves school every day, he’s going to go sleep in the woods behind the school or he’s going to sleep in the bathroom down at the train station.
This actually made me think of a situation. My brother’s daughter, she asked me one day, “Where you sleeping at?” I sleep outside. She said, “You homeless?” I said ya. “No you ain’t you got a cell phone.” It made me think that she thinks homelessness is people who don’t have anything. There’s a lot of homeless youth and people don’t know because people are scared to tell people and that they’ll be judged.
Even through all of this, you still managed to graduate high school. How did you do it?
Friends. Friends' mothers. I knew my social security number and everything by the time I was like 12 so I just told them “Hey, fill out my paperwork, I know my social security number and all that, just put my name on here so I can go to school.”
I finished high school and everything, Ballou Senior high school.
What kept you going to school?
Me wanting better for myself and to show my little brothers that they can do it too.
When I was in middle school they threw an 8th grade prom because they knew a lot of us wasn’t gonna make it to 12th grade to go to prom or even graduate.
When I finished and got that diploma I realized there’s so many people living around here who ain’t even got this piece of paper and I got mine at 18 when I was supposed to get it.
So then, it’s more than just a diploma?
It’s more than just a diploma, it’s a sigh of relief. I didn’t honestly think that I was going to make it to 18. My life expectancy for myself was 16. I’m at 20 now. If I make it to 30, I’m gonna throw a big party, cause I made it farther than I ever thought I was gonna make it.
Why did you only think you would make it to 16?
Around the age when I was 16, I was what you called a “Yes Man.” If you gonna pay me enough money, you can get me to do anything. I would not tell you no regardless of what it was, I didn’t care. If you were paying me enough, “Yes”. After you snake enough certain people out – which means doing something wrong to them – even if you get out of them peoples life, a lot of them still want you hurt.
By 16, I crossed at least 20 – 30 people so I was like, man I ain’t gonna make it to 18 so let’s get this will written and let’s get everything finished so I can just die in peace. Now I’m at 20 and my life did a whole 720 from where it was to now, I see myself living to probably 100.
How has your life changed?
I found Covenant House through a friend and it was the first group of people who actually said, “Ok we’re here, we’re not going to stop helping you whether you push us away or not.” Even when you leave the program, you still can come back and have a connection with the staff that work there and they’ll still talk to you if you’ve got problems and help you out if you need help.
They connected me down to a program that helped me get my first 9 to 5 job. They connected me down to the food stamp building which helped me get food. They connected me to a psychiatrist to help me see if I had any mental disabilities or any problems. They connected me to a therapist and I told him the problems that I had that I needed to resolve to get off of my back to help me move forward. They connected me to a bed and a hot shower and a meal too.
Now, what are you doing at Covenant House?
Right now, I just got my transcript and my immunization shot records and I finished my application for University of the District of Columbia, I’m trying to go to UDC and then Morehouse after two years.
What does it mean for you to go to UDC?
To me it means a lot. It means to show my son that even though my father wasn’t there for me, I’m going to show him a better way of life. What I’m going for is my bachelor’s in social work.
Why bachelor’s in social work?
I’ve seen about 10 to 12 social workers throughout my whole life and a lot of them aren’t empathetic. They don’t understand what I’ve been through. If a young man comes into my office and he tells me that his mother’s being prostituted and the man that lives there is putting his hands on her, I can be sympathetic with that. I can actually help him get to places differently then somebody who has never been through that because I have actually walked a mile in them shoes. I understand how it feels to be in that situation. Instead of saying, “Oh you can do this, you can do that.” actually say, “We need to get you some therapy. We need to get you a mentor. We need to get you into some programs to get you out the house and get you out the way to keep your mind off of it.” because if you sit in that situation and you sit in that environment, it’s going to rub off on you.
How do you see your future now?
Bright. With dignity, bright. Yeah, I’m going to do my social work thing and change the world, one step at a time.
I’m just a young man trying to make it and change his life. I’m tired of repeating the cycle - it’s time to break it.
What is your vision for DC?
My vision for DC is that there are no more homeless youth. As a city, I think we can do that.
If you guys could really help the homeless youth, I would really, really appreciate it, because I’m tired of having to go up and down the street and see kids my age and kids younger than me sleeping outside or asking if they can have a dollar or can I have 50 cents. I give it to them because I know that was me a couple of years ago.*Edited for length
Anything someone can do, even if it’s like a cold sandwich. A cold sandwich could change a homeless person’s whole day. I know it’s changed mine a couple of times. I love me a bologna and cheese sandwich.
A special thank you to Boogie for being a part of the 10 Year Anniversary Celebration. Your openness and honesty sheds light on the issues DC youth face every day and inspires the work of DCAYA. Join Boogie and DCAYA on September 26th and help homeless youth fulfill their bright futures.
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