“I was living with two family members and they got evicted,” Gabriel begins to tell me. We sat down at dawn at the Camillus main campus picnic tables by the elevated planter boxes adjoining the walking trail under a few dozen or so palm trees.

As a client of the Camillus Youth Housing Initiative (CYHI), he and other youth receive transitional housing—from six to twenty-four months—for up to twelve youth at a time who are homeless and unaccompanied.

Living in Cuba and making it to Miami only a few years ago, his story begins with these two family members—mother and grandmother—unable to find anyone to take Gabriel in after losing their home. “I went to live in [sic] airport for like two weeks until I found Camillus,” he continues, in notably collected English for his short time here.

Understanding the complex needs of the young women and men served, the CYHI incorporates a trauma-informed approach, giving individuals the guidance to successfully rehabilitate from homelessness. Participants receive a range of services.

“We are fed three times a day. We are provided with room, bed, shower—even healthcare, so we are provided with pretty much everything we need, so that can be a big help depending on the situation. In my situation, I’m pretty sure that was life-saving. I don’t know what would I [sic] have done if it weren’t for Camillus,” Gabriel notes matter-of-factly. To break barriers, sister agency Camillus Health Concern operates a satellite clinic on the second floor of the main campus.

CYHI’s intensive case management connects clients with educational and vocational training, life-skills training, comprehensive assessments, employment, benefits assistance, meals, transportation assistance, referrals to mental and physical health services, and more.

“This program has helped me a lot because the reason I was homeless, the reason I have been here a year, is because I didn’t have my papers.” He goes on to reveal, “I didn’t have [sic] work permit… I couldn’t do anything about it and Camillus pretty much saved my life.”

An attorney volunteering in a regular series of free legal assistance programming at Camillus—Lawyers to the Rescue, Catholic Legal Charities, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and others are partners—helped Gabriel get his employment authorization document about four months ago. After volunteering in the Camillus kitchen and completing GED coursework to earn a high school degree, he now works part-time at Ross.

Tomorrow Gabriel interviews at Costco to add a second part-time job to his resume. And he is looking forward to a few more milestones along the way. As he continues building his savings and self-confidence, he confides, “I will rent somewhere, probably with roommates until I get a job [sic] I can make enough money to buy a house.” You supported Gabriel’s American dream. On his behalf—and the countless young women and men served—we thank you.

*To protect the privacy of this youth client, his name and place of employment were changed for this article.

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