Kadyja Harris, 21, of Rochester was homeless from 2014 to 2016, spending her time mostly in Manchester and Concord. She emerged from homelessness with the help of the Transitional Living Program at Child and Family Services. On March 24, CFS is hosting the third annual SleepOut in downtown Manchester to raise awareness and funds so it can continue helping youth like Harris find stable homes.
First of all, can you tell me a little bit about who you are? What are your interests and aspirations?
I’m a really caring person. I’m very passionate about people. … I currently work at the Farnum Center in Manchester. I’ve been working there for like eight months now. I love it; it’s a really great job, I’m really, really passionate about it. … I obtained my associate’s degree in September of 2016 in drug and alcohol counseling. So I started working in my field of study a couple months before I graduated. … I’m a resident instructor in the medical detoxification unit. … After I graduated high school, I first went to New England College for criminal justice. I was there for a year, but I kind of felt like I wasn’t as passionate about criminal justice as I am about drug and alcohol counseling. … Both of my parents were addicts, so that’s what kind of got me introduced to the field in the first place.
How did you come to be homeless and how old were you at the time?
I was homeless twice. I wasn’t kicked out or anything like that. My parents’ addiction really got the best of me. I was about 17 at the time and it just came to the point where things were just so crazy at the house that … my only option was to leave. It started to affect my well-being, me being in school. And when it comes to education, it’s something I take very, very seriously. … I was living with my stepsister for a little bit. … And then I was going back and forth for a couple of years at my best friend’s house, and once that didn’t work out I would go back to Manchester to my cousin’s. There were a few times that I actually slept in my car. … But for a majority of the time, I was at my best friend’s house. … It wasn’t until after when I was 18 that I was able to get a place of my own. … So I was living in a couple of rooming houses. [It was] a really bad environment. There was … a revolving door of drugs going in and out of the whole building.
How did the experience change you?
When I was 15 I got diagnosed with anxiety and depression, so I had to deal with that … as the years passed. And because my parents were addicts, I didn’t want to be dependent on any medicine, so I wasn’t really on medication for a long period of time. … I think overall what changed me was when I was in high school and they introduced me to the Upward Bound program. … It’s a program for high school kids who are [in] low-income families. … I applied for it and got into it. It’s basically a program where you are in school for the whole summer and they house you at the University of New Hampshire and you’re there for six weeks and you go home on the weekends. They feed you, they pay for your classes, they do everything. … I was there for three years. I ended up getting college credits for taking the classes there. I think that’s what really changed me because I was around people who went through the same things that I went through. … I didn’t feel like I was so alone.
What are the biggest lessons you learned from the ordeal?
Honestly, the biggest thing that I struggled with was dealing with life and how life came. How these things happen in your life you just think that it can’t get any lower and then it does. You don’t have to give up. I’m a fighter and I fought my whole life to get where I am now. … There are places out there that will help people from these kinds of backgrounds. It doesn’t mean that you have to be alone. I believe there are people who go through this who have mental illnesses that … [think] their only option is using drugs [or] to just be OK with being homeless. … It’s doesn’t have to be that way. … It took me two years to even agree to go into transitional living because I was so independent and I thought that I had it all under control, when in reality I didn’t. And once … I put my pride aside and asked for help, it changed my life around for the better.