Josh Hamilton is a teacher at Guyer High School in Denton. Hamilton, 28, has worked in poor inner-city schools and affluent suburban schools, and says he’s not surprised poverty and homelessness exist in both. He’s come to recognize the so-called “red flags” of kids in trouble and advocate for them—mainly because he, too, lived on the brink as a teen. He lived with his mother and brother in a decrepit mobile home for much of his life. Now he’s a mentor for homeless and at-risk students.
People see homelessness as a poverty issue, and because we don’t have poverty at our school, maybe somehow we don’t have homelessness. That’s not true. We have poverty; we have homelessness.
I remember working with a kid just the other day who was homeless, living in his truck behind our school for two weeks and nobody noticed. How does no one notice? We live in a very affluent community, million-dollar houses half a mile away from where we are, and we have kids sleeping in their cars. How did a teacher not catch this? How did an administrator, how did a principal? If this person is homeless, there’s no family support. When the family is no longer there, it’s on us. You signed up to be a mentor, a teacher, a family member — I mean, that’s our job.
My mom would be the first to admit that we were constantly on the brink of near-homelessness. We would be scraping it together last-minute just to pay the rent. Unfortunately, I coped like a lot of kids my age do — negatively. I did drugs, I got into fights, I drank because I felt like that’s what society wanted me to do.
So I try to leave kids with that note. When I’m talking to students, I’m like, “your current situation may suck. You may think there’s no way out.” But I would tell you that I’m living proof that there is a way out. I’m now happily married; I own my own home; I have a car. I have all the things I guess you would say in the American Dream one might have. I love my job; I love going to work; I’m working on my Ph.D.
The reason that I believe genuinely I’m on this earth is to hear stories like that–because those stories are important. But we’re never going to hear those stories unless we pay attention. Look at your best friend, look at your neighbor, look at your students, and ask yourself if you genuinely care about that person, how much do you really know about them?
Read the entire Homeless in High School series here.