New Beginnings

When freshman Austin King lived in a house, the prospect of being homeless seemed impossible. However, living without shelter soon became his reality.

“I’d always see homeless people and I’d feel bad for them, but I never thought it would happen to me,” King said. “When I was a kid, I never had to worry about not living in a house because I always thought Mom and Dad would take care of it. All I had to do was come home. On the street, it was only a living space, not a home.”

Less than three weeks after eighth-grade promotion, King and his parents lived on the side of a Torrance highway. Inside a camping tent with only a pillow, blanket, and backpack of supplies, he described his experience as “cold, loud and boring”.

Most of my personal items were in storage because I didn’t want them to get stolen,” King said. “Getting jumped or stabbed or shot was my biggest fear.”

Prior to becoming homeless, King and his parents struggled to sustain themselves. As the only employed member of the family, King’s father was tasked with supporting his thirteen-year-old son and his wife who suffered from addiction and mental illness. When his wife’s condition worsened, King’s father quit his job, resulting in the loss of their home.

“My mom was cutting herself and started abusing drugs and alcohol, so my dad quit. He chose her over the job,” King said. “We lived in a cheap hotel during the week, but it went downhill from there. I became homeless for about two months during the summer, and my dad losing his job caused that.”

Without a permanent source of income, King spent several hours during the night searching for recyclables within a ten-mile radius from their tent. By morning, King and his parents would accumulate eight bags full of cans and bottles worth $25 to $30.

Although the money they earned went towards necessities such as bread and toiletries, they’d occasionally indulge in small luxuries such as motel rooms and fast food.

“Every once in a while if we had enough food to last us a couple of weeks, we’d go to Jack in the Box to get something off the dollar menu as a treat,” King said.

King began feeling hopeless as time progressed. Initially, he believed his grandmother would remove him from the street and place him in a safer environment, however, King was immediately told otherwise.

“I always thought ‘I’m fine. I could get my stuff and go to Grandma’s because Mom wants the best for me,’” King said. “After about a month, I finally worked up the nerves to ask my mom if I could go, but she said no. I thought I’d be homeless for a long time.”

Unwilling to live with a sense of uncertainty any longer, King persisted in his fight for a better life. With his grandmother and father at his side to help him, King did whatever it took to live in a house.

“I wanted to go to my grandmother’s, but my mom was very selfish. I had to say I was going to high school to get a good job and help them. She agreed and sent me,” King said.

No longer homeless, King is now able to live the average teenage experience, exchanging late nights spent picking up garbage in the cold for playing video games past midnight.

Yet King realizes his comfort is all thanks to his grandmother who provided him with clothes, food, and other essentials no teenager should be deprived of. Constantly, he reminds himself to respect her despite his emotional state.

“She makes me mad when she takes things away when I only have one F, but I don’t want to get angry at her because of what she did. I idolize her for it,” King said.

Homelessness has left a lasting mark on King. From isolating himself from friends and family to being wary of everyone around him, he continues to recover from his experience. Although damaged, King is grateful to live free from fear in a permanent home.

“It scars you, but at the same time, I feel very relieved. I can finally sleep again,” King said.