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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On being William, a Teenager and being Homeless, Part III

By William Dominguez, 18
Continued from Sunday, November 9, 2008 …

"Can I borrow a dollar?"

I had to beg for money. I would ask for 50 cents or a dollar. I'd say, "Can I borrow a dollar so I can catch the bus?" I asked guys with their wives or girlfriends because they were more likely to help a kid out. Some people would look at me and say, "What a waste" or "Get the hell away from me, you bum." The ones who felt sorry for me would give me money and say "Poor kid." On a good day, I made $40 to $60. I'd go get something to eat. Then I'd buy drugs, alcohol and cigarettes with the rest of it. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and crystal meth. Drugs were more important than food. That's how it is for addicts.

It was scary at times. One time I was hanging out with this guy who had done a stupid drug deal. Later, we were sitting on a park bench and the guy he'd ripped off came back and started shooting at us. I ducked and fell to the ground. It was an adrenaline rush. I saw my life flash before my eyes. Luckily, we didn't get hurt.

While I was homeless, I thought of myself as nothing. I had no feelings whatsoever. I couldn't see myself still alive because of all the drugs I was doing, all the stuff I was seeing, all the people I was ripping off. I was breaking into houses and robbing them. I was afraid I would get caught. I thought I would overdose or get killed. Seeing little kids with their families was hard. I wished I had a family of my own.

I don't remember exactly when or how old I was, but I moved to the San Fernando Valley because it was familiar. I also had friends from middle school there. Once or twice a week I would shower or get something to eat at a friend's house. I made sure to go to different friends' houses so they wouldn't find out I was homeless. I'd tell them, "No one's at my house and I don't have a key."

My best friend got me into a crew. A crew is like a gang but you can get out when you want and they do smaller crimes like tagging. Being in the crew meant a lot to me. They were like family. They gave me food, a place to take a shower and sometimes a place to sleep. I would sometimes tag with them. They gave me the name AWOL after I told them how I ran away.

But one day I was asleep at a park and the cops came by. They saw me and ran my name through the police computer. I came up as a runaway so they took me in. I was mad because I was used to staying on the streets and living on my own. I had been on the streets for a year. I didn't want to go back to a group home.

After that, I was in and out of 13 group homes. I'd run away or get kicked out for having dirty drug tests. Each time I left I thought, "Here we go again." I would stay on the streets for one or two months, sleeping in parks or churches, then I would turn myself in. I don't remember much about this time because I don't want to and my memory is messed up.

I do remember that I went back to my crew for help. But they turned their backs on me. They said they weren't going to help me because I had lied to them about God knows what. But my best friend from the crew, Tommy, knew I hadn't lied so he let me stay with him. But I felt like I was interfering with his life. I was wearing his clothes and eating his food. I felt bad, so I left and was all alone again.

One night I woke up in the middle of the night crying, wishing I had a family to go to. I regretted leaving Tommy's house. I thought about selling myself for food and money, but I didn't.

I hit a breaking point when I was at a party with Tommy. I got in a fight and some guy came behind me and stabbed me in the side. That was it. I called my social worker and got the number for a runaway shelter in Hollywood. I stayed there for two months. I went to Narcotics Anonymous to get help with my drug problem, went to therapy and got my stab wound healed.

Then I was put in a foster home in Pacoima near San Fernando. But my rival crew was in the area. I got into fights and got threats every day. They'd say, "I'm gonna kill you. Get the hell out of this neighborhood." My foster mom didn't do a thing about it. So I ran away from there, too.

I felt really jacked up in the head when I realized I was going to be on the streets again. I was really scared that I would go back to my old ways of drugs and alcohol. After spending so long on the streets I felt like I had lost my mind. I had been stabbed. I had been shot at. I had seen people get shot and die or die from an overdose. I was tired of it. I started stealing and cutting myself and trying to overdose. I wanted to get caught. I wanted to die. To be continued …


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