My spotlight today has fallen on Tim Scalona, a graduate of the University of Massachusettes, an activist and, most recently, a politician. His circumstances leading up to his graduation from UMass were anything but ordinary and anything but easy.
Scalona and his family were evicted from their home back in 2012.
Scalona was only a kid and had yet to even enter high school.
Scalona described his journey in a moving piece he posted online.
“2,926 days ago, my family endured an experience that would not only disrupt the lives of my six younger siblings and I, but would also erode our sense of stability and community. On June 25th, 2012 our reality was shattered and our perspectives were forever changed because of our foreclosure day.
“Years of financial insecurity and periodic unemployment had led to that very moment. Tears streamed down my mother’s face as she fruitlessly begged the sheriff to retract a decision of which he was the messenger.”
Scalona has very powerful words to share about his experience and he isn’t shy about sharing them. He wants to bring awareness to what these situations are like in an effort to try and bring about reform to stop them altogether.
Having lived in poverty, he is working endlessly to make sure people know that it isn’t as easy to escape such a situation as some might believe. He is still working to pull the rest of his family out of poverty as well.
He is truly a rarity to become so stable and established after being thrust into an awful situation that he had no control over.
Moving from hotel to hotel, struggling with stability and family dynamics, Scalona sought escape in his studies, determined to excel in school to look for a way out of the situation.
“I walked the line between two worlds: one of academic refuge, another of housing-insecurity, food-insecurity, and mental illness. I stifled my shame and sought to simply succeed in school, yet unknowingly, I further isolated myself from my peers.”
Needless to say, the stress was incredibly taxing on Scalona’s mental health and his sense of self, confidence and happiness drifted away as his peers took notice of his desperate situation.
“In October of that year, my sense of self devolved until I refused to leave our hotel bed. I spent days underneath the covers, due to the stress of our environment and, in particular, my schoolwork. I was unable to complete such in our living environment, and thus what began as my own source of comfort, became a never-ending nightmare as a consequence of our 100 square foot prison cell. […] it was my desperate choice to share my experiences with a teacher my freshman year of high school, along with
the intervention of mental health professionals, that saved my life.”
For those of us that have never experienced such desperation and hopelessness like this, it is impossible to understand the state of mind that would be thrust on you from these situations.
According to NCSL.org, 69% of homeless youth report having issues with their mental health! Sadly, in this case, Scalona is no outlier. Struggling with mental health is simply a reality that homeless youth have to face due to the high stress and lack of stability in their lives.
And even youth homelessness is not nearly as much of a rarity as we might think or like to believe. Each year, around 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness. That simply cannot happen in the wealthiest country in the world.
School is increasingly difficult depending on your housing situation. The worse the situation, the less likely you are to graduate at all. According to School House Connection, based on data from 44 states in 2016/17, the average graduation rate for homeless students from public schools was 64%. That’s 13% lower than low-income students and 20% below students with higher-earning homes.
Students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school than their peers.
Scalona acknowledges that he is an outlier in his successes and that he was incredibly privileged to attend university while the rest of his family could not.
“My story is not the rule, but an exception and a consequence of systemic inequality. The memories of injustice and constant instability push me forward into advocacy, yet reveal themselves in my personal relationships and insecurities. I yearn for a better future, one where no child goes hungry nor lacks shelter and opportunity.
“As I struggle with nightmares and pained flashbacks of an experience that I have not mentally left, I speak my truth to fight for justice in a society that sometimes dissuades vulnerability.”
Who better to fight for justice for those experiencing homelessness than someone who has survived it?
Scalona’s words are touching and inspiring, he has lived a hard life and he is still so young.
And his fight is not yet over, he continues to fight for reform and a better place in society for his family.
Anyone can learn something from reading his story, be it survival in a harsh world or perseverence through seemingly insurmountable odds and incredibly difficult situations.
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