INSIDERS: Being a Homeless Teen in Tallahassee

CCYS Sleep Out
Posted at 11:00 PM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2017-12-13 05:24:28-05
TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- Homelessness affects people of all ages, including children and young adults. Leon County Schools reported 797 students were homeless in 2014.
The organization Capital City Youth Services (CCYS) held Tallahassee's first-ever "Sleep Out" to raise awareness about youth homelessness.
In 2014, CCYS helped 1,200 children and teens, many dealing with homelessness -- including 18-year-old Justin Randolph.
"Stuff happens over time," he said, "and you can't control it."
Randolph came to Tallahassee in July 2015 to start classes at Tallahassee Community College (TCC) the following month. He and two friends drove up from Clearwater and got an apartment together. 
"That's my only focus right now," he said. "I just want to go to school, learn, network with people."
But plans started to unravel. His car was totaled in an accident, and his application for a Pell grant was denied, because his family made too much money. And then the day after Thanksgiving, his friends told him to leave the apartment.
"They wanted more space," Randolph said. "I was even paying them rent money, and they just kicked me out."
Unable to go to class and faced with no home, Randolph headed to Lake Ella, a place where a number of the homeless stay.
"I had a duffel bag, and that's all I had -- a duffel bag, a hygiene kit, a comforter and a pillow," he said.
Once a week, the Street Outreach team at CCYS comes to Lake Ella and other locations to support homeless youth. That's where they met Randolph a few days after he got there.
"We talked about what his situation was and what he was hoping to do," said Taylor Biro, a street outreach team advocate.
Biro said she's helped hundreds of kids find resources during her three years with CCYS.
"Either just a backpack and some shoes, or they need a place to stay and just as much help, some counseling," Biro said. "So, the number is growing every day."
To raise awareness, CCYS invited local leaders and residents to camp out for a night. Cardboard boxes and blankets were provided -- a glimpse into life on the street.
"Sometimes, it's uncomfortable to address homelessness and those that are going through homelessness," said Leon County Commissioner John Dailey. "I wanted to come out firsthand and really have detailed conversations the participants about homelessness in Leon County."
About 30 people spent all night outside -- the weather, chilly but dry, and the boxes, not providing much shelter.
That's the daily reality for Randolph and others who fight to turn their lives around.
"Staying under a pavilion with nothing -- like, seriously nothing, it makes you value the true meaning of life," Randolph said.
It's a message he said he learned at Lake Ella -- a message Billy Smith, who's been homeless for about four years, lives by every day.
"We experience negativity in life to make us better people, and I was encouraging him that he just keep the faith," Smith said.
"I can't be confident that I won't be homeless ever again in my lifetime, because stuff always happens and you have to learn that it is a journey throughout life," Randolph said.
Randolph now lives at the Transitional Living Facility at CCYS, which houses a handful of homeless teens and young adults. He's also started classes at TCC, after his tuition was waived because of his financial status.