This story originally appeared on KERA News and is a part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative.
Yes, you can be homeless and graduate high school, and even get into college. That doesn’t suddenly solve your homeless problem, explains Denzel Bailey.
“My first year I graduated, boom, our graduation. What’s the deal?” Bailey wondered.
The deal for Denzel Bailey? In 2012 he had just graduated from North Side High in Fort Worth. He needed a place to stay. His mom didn’t always have an apartment but that summer she did. It was crowded with younger siblings.
“I know my mother doesn’t have money, I don’t need to be here eating, there’s not a room for me,” Bailey says. “This isn’t my house.”
Denzel barely knows his dad, so his place wasn’t an option. He sofa surfed at homes of friends.
“So everybody is still in high school summer mode,” Bailey says. “So parents still don’t ask as many questions. You just come for like, ah, and stay a week or two and no one asks anything. That’s what I did the first summer. I would go to my moms, I would go to friends.”
That summer after high school, Denzel also got help from the local Boys and Girls Clubs, where he was Youth of the Year. He got the award for overcoming homelessness and other challenges. As a result he travelled, spoke to groups, and he got to stay in hotels. When college began, he moved to a dorm at UT Arlington. Then came summer again.
“I had a cousin, he works at General Motors,” Bailey explains. “He took me to Detroit, he took me to Chicago, spent like weeks out there. I spent a lot of that summer out.”
Summer’s haven’t gotten any easier. There’s a room available at his grandparents place in Fort Worth. It used to be his dad’s, but Denzel says dad is in jail. So it’s his room this summer.
Denzel’s an inspiration to a lot of people, including high school friend Carina Salinas, These days, she cares for her new infant, but, keeps her college dreams alive.
“No matter what he went through he always did his best in school, always,” Salinas says. “And he never let anything get in his way. And , you know, if he had so much going on he could do it, of course I could do it.”
Denzel inspires adults too, like mentor Lisa Hatfield. She’s with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Fort Worth. She’s known Denzel for five years.
“He always came to school every single day,” Hatfield says. “I don’t’ know how he made it to school every single day, but he was always at school. That was a really amazing thing. He would keep moving forward. That takes a really big person to move forward and see your goals and to keep going.”
By now, Denzel’s figured out summertime survival. A week or two with this friend, another week or two with that relative…
“As long as you can, as long as you can do that, and you can do that a week, two week s at a time, things are fine. You do that, the summer passes by like that,” Denzel says. “Just keep moving like that. And then when you’ve exhausted them, ok let me try disappearing for a bit. Let me see where my mom’s at. Ok my mom doesn’t have a place right now. Let me go knock on my grandmother’s door. Let’s see, stay here 2-3 days. Rinse wash and repeat.”
In a few weeks, Denzel starts his senior year at UT Arlington. He hopes to end that homeless cycle. After college, he wants to teach English overseas, perhaps for the Peace Corps. Then, with his degree, he looks forward to teaching high school history, and getting his own place.