Unaccompanied Siblings Trade Home for a New Life

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Until recently, 20-year-old Skarlett and her younger siblings lived in a homeless shelter in downtown San Francisco. They moved to San Francisco, the city where they were born, from Mexico. Skarlett is currently the caretaker of her younger brother and sister. She asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy. Here is her story, as told to Youth Radio’s Amber Ly.

I was born and raised here in San Francisco until I was 12 years old. Then, I moved with my family to Mexico for seven years. And a year ago, my younger siblings and I moved back here alone.

Skarlett’s sister struggled with the transition living alone with her siblings. “It’s not something easy to deal with. I’d like to go visit [my parents],” she said. But going back to Mexico could mean giving up their housing or losing other opportunities, like free healthcare and education. (Design: Desmond Meagley and Storm White/Youth Radio)

It’s a big opportunity. The three of us were born here and we should take advantage of what our US citizenship can offer us. You know, free education and health insurance. All kinds of stuff. Back in Mexico, we had to pay for those things.

When we first came, we lived with my aunt. She wanted to house us, but she can’t fit all of us into her apartment, because she has a family of her own. Then, my siblings and I lived together in a homeless shelter. Now, we live in a subsidized Oakland apartment through a housing program.

For my brother and sister, this life is completely new for them. My brother didn’t really know English when we came back to San Francisco. So it was hard for him actually. I told my siblings, “You guys, think about it. If we go back, we won’t have free health insurance or education or the same opportunities.”

Skarlett takes one class at a time in order to support her brother and sister. She says it’s hard work. But thanks to Skarlett’s support, her younger sister got straight A’s in school. Asked if she wants to go to college, Skarlett’s little sister replied: “Of course!” (Design: Desmond Meagley and Storm White/Youth Radio)

I go to school at City College of San Francisco. Even though education is what motivated us to come here, I’m only able to take one class right now. I work and I have to take care of my brother and sister. I can’t overload my schedule with another class. If my sister has an appointment at the doctor’s or my brother has a parent teacher conference, I have to see to that time — be able to attend.

It has been hard, honestly. I’m still working on how to manage everything. But at the end of the day, I find a way. Both my siblings are very supportive. They understand that we’re in a different situation than others. We help each other a lot.

Even though Skarlett and her siblings have struggled with finances, homesickness and judgment since they moved to the U.S., Skarlett says she doesn’t regret returning, and that it’s better to start a new life here. (Design: Desmond Meagley and Storm White/Youth Radio)

I think if my mom were here, she would be doing the same things as me. I miss my mom. Back in Mexico, I was just a teenager. I’d never spent quality time with my siblings. And now, I’ve gained more time with them. I’ve learned to love them more. Almost like I’m a mom to them.

I wouldn’t say that I regret coming back. Leaving everything back in Mexico, and starting a new life — it’s better actually. I mean, everything in life happens for a reason, right?

Skarlett, 20, is a formerly homeless youth in San Francisco and a contributor to Youth Radio. Her story is part of Youth Radio’s coverage for the SF Homeless Project. Special thanks to Ed Cavagnaro (Guest Producer) and Storm White (Design Associate).

For the most recent data on the SF Homeless Project’s impact, visit this page. If you’d like to help, visit Bay Area Helping Hands, a directory of nonprofits that serve homeless people. 



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