San Francisco, CA

Rachel: Have you heard that song going from rags to riches?  I can say my life went from riches to rags. I was a wealthy kid doing good and then my whole life changed, and I had to survive with the fittest  in San Francisco.

[I was put into] foster care when I was 15 and then I came out here to San Francisco when I was 18 and I was homeless for 10 years.

I was a good kid. My parents were married for 41 years, so we had a good life, but foster care changed my whole outlook on life. I got put into foster care due to violence in my family. I had a brother who was bipolar and schizophrenic and that's how it started. He'd come home upset, and I was his punching bag so he took out all his anger on me. I allowed  it because that's my brother.

It's the cultural thing in black families. They say what happens in the family stays in the family, so I wasn't allowed to tell what happened at home. My softball coach  seen the bruises on me so she had no choice but to report it. 

BW: What was foster care like?

Rachel: Foster care was horrible. Foster care was ... I had to trust in someone who didn't even know who I was. I had to deal with people fighting me, coming from families that didn't have nobody, no father, no mother. 

After foster care, I was homeless. I was in relationships just to be with someone for the comfort. I was looking for that. It took me a long time to get comfortable in this life because I was raised where I didn't have drugs in my family. When I came out here at 18 years old, I was seeing people smoking out of crystal pipes. 

Now I'm stable [has housing], I've been here for three years. I have PTSD. Past trauma from my brother and my mom, foster care, not being able to have emotional support. I have a lot of separation issues. I've had so many people in my life, and they just left. It's like I can't trust you, I can't trust this, and I can't trust that.  Here I am almost 30 years old and still trying to grasp how life is for kid's my age. 

BW: Where's your brother now?

Rachel: My brother lives with my mom. When my dad passed, me and my mom's relationship just went worse because  I'm gay. She doesn't like the lifestyle I choose. I'm not saying I'm always gonna be like this but all I've known is being hurt by men so ...

BW: Do you ever talk to your brother?

Rachel: We talked. You know in life, you have to be able to forgive and forget. We're at the part where I forgave him. I'm not going to forget that you're my brother, and I know that you had problems. He lost a daughter and then he had two other kids.  He's going through his own karma. So when he calls me, I say hi, how you doing, checking on him but other than that, he's still him.

BW:  So what's the next step for you?

Rachel: The next step is I graduate from high school. I get my high school diploma in January. I've been working doing a little in-home care. It's very inspiring to be able to help someone who can't really do too much. I work with someone who's been homeless for like 20 years and lives in a house, but they're hoarders and we have to make a trail for them. My job is not about me, it's about them. Some people don't take time out to do that. That's something I learned to do.