Tibia connected with Communities In Schools of Philadelphia (CIS) as an 11th grader in 2014. She had recently learned she was expecting her first child and was taking some steps to prepare for the challenge ahead by accessing support from a CIS Site Coordinator. She shared that she was no longer allowed to live at home because of the pregnancy and had recently left to stay with another family member. This first housing disruption began a 2 ½ year struggle as Tibia navigated high school as a youth experiencing homelessness.
The National Center on Family Homelessness reports a staggering 2.5 million children are homeless each year in this country. In Philadelphia, about 12,000 people access shelters annually and there are many more who are turned away due to shelter overcrowding. Many young people like Tibia aren’t represented in the available statistics. They can move throughout school largely unnoticed because they go “home” every night after school. What isn’t known is that where they go changes from day to day depending on who will let them in. This leaves them without a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence; included in the definition of homelessness.
Tibia found her way to the CIS Southwest Education Center in September 2015 through a CIS Site Coordinator at a previous school. She was over-age and under-credited yet eligible to graduate if she really applied herself in the Performance Learning Center program. After meeting the CIS Team at her new school Tibia began to network, opening doors to resources and supports to help her succeed. Members of the CIS Team connected her with a volunteer opportunity at the daycare next door, employment opportunities with interview skills coaching and access to material and financial supports to help her stay on track. When she expressed concerns about the impact her housing instability was having on her daughter’s development she received support with enrolling her child in a nearby daycare center. She even chose to focus her senior project on how to open a quality childcare center as a result. It was not long before Tibia became a standout Senior who was excelling in her new school, despite the challenges she was facing.
Constantly networking is what allowed Tibia to open doors. She often arrived at school very early after dropping her daughter off at daycare; many days with her overnight bag in hand to be ready for the next place she would stay. She would give her time to support the CIS Team with projects until breakfast and homeroom so was often the first to learn of new resources and receive extra individualized guidance as a result.
One day upon arrival at school with overnight bag in tow, she shared that she had run out of places to go after-school and needed help finding emergency shelter. The CIS Team worked tirelessly to contact resources and shelters to no avail. They ensured she had dinner and transportation to after-hours shelter intake and confirmed her daughter had a safe place to stay with family. Tibia then spent the night in a chair at a “Sit Up Café” in Philadelphia which is the last resort if no shelter beds are available. Days like this Tibia would get discouraged and would feel she couldn’t make it through school with all of the challenges she was facing. She would always come back the next week stronger, ready to graduate, get to work and determined to secure housing with her daughter. She spent hours with her CIS Case Manager after-school and on Saturdays working on her senior project, resume, job applications, and housing program applications.
CIS celebrated with Tibia when she graduated last February; however the work didn’t stop when she received her diploma. She continued to meet with her CIS support after graduation and continued opening doors presented to her. She received her first interview outfit through a referral to a CIS of Philadelphia partner, The Career Wardrobe, shortly after graduation. She was wearing that outfit when she landed her first full-time job at a daycare center. After years of navigating resources and systems in place for housing support in Philadelphia, she was ultimately selected for a residential program. Now when her CIS Case Manager arrives to see her, Tibia opens the door to her first apartment that she shares with her daughter-finally home.