“This is Home” Claims a Formerly Homeless Teen

NPR Profiles a Fourteen-Year-Old Homeless Teen Navigating Middle School in Idaho

On October 9, 2018, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story “Trying Not to Break Down – A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School.” While the teen, who profiled in the story with his 11-year-old brother and grandmother live in Boise, Idaho, their story is not unfamiliar to many families experiencing homelessness in New Jersey.

  • Mondays through Fridays, Caydden Zimmerman, 14 years old, faced very long school days.
  • Imagine, taking a 90-minute bus ride to and from school every day.
  • Caydden, his brother and grandmother lived in a homeless shelter.
  • And he is one of 2.5 million children across the country who are homeless.
  • This data comes from the National Center on Family Homelessness.

“That number is rising as house prices and rental costs continue to grow in large cities and small and the trend is clearly visible in Boise — the fastest-growing city in the nation.”

  • New Jersey faces a housing crisis with a shortage of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.
  • The state has 299,191 renter households that are extremely low income.
  • In New Jersey, there is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.
  • The annual household income needed to afford a two-bedroom rental home in the state at the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Fair Market Rent is $58,603.

The family was evicted from their previous home. Pam Cantrell is Caydden’s grandmother.

“The landlord decided to sell the property, and we just could not find a place we could afford,” Cantrell says. “The more I looked the more depressed I got. I just, I didn’t know what to do.”

Cantrell cares for the brothers because their mother is unable to due to her mental illness and drug addiction.

Life in the shelter, without a permanent home was difficult. “It’s difficult for Caydden too, but you wouldn’t know it. Caydden is a social 14-year-old with a big smile. One of his favorite things about school is seeing his friends.”

“My friends know about it — me being homeless — they don’t tease me on it,” Caydden says. “They just know that I’m doing it, I’m trying to work hard. And it’s just an effort to try not to break down.” Caydden attends an alternative middle school for students who have difficulties attending traditional schools. “Homeless students often bounce around to different schools as their living situations change.”

Caydden tells his grandmother that he wants to get a job to help the family afford to rent a home, but she does not want him to work but to enjoy his childhood instead.

The story ends on a higher note with Caydden, his mother and grandmother moving into their own home along with another woman from the homeless shelter. While it is certainly not a luxurious home by any means, for Caydden, it’s a huge improvement than living in a shelter. “This is home!” he says, smiling.

One of the themes of the July 25 Congressional Reception in Washington, DC is that Opportunity Starts at Home.

Everyone, including families like Cayden and his family, deserve that opportunity!

National Center of Family Homelessness

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