Senior Anjela Sizemore will tell you that she became homeless a few days after her junior prom. But that was only the most recent time.
A disagreement about staying out late led the 18-year-old to leave her parents’ house.
She walked to a friend’s house, where she stayed for about two months. But then, a disagreement about the appropriate use of Facebook had her looking for another place to live.
“It hit me harder, because I, like, noted in my head that I didn’t have a place to go. I was scared for my life,” she said.
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She found shelter with another friend. She talked with her friend’s mother about house rules. All was well until the family was evicted from their apartment at the end of August.
Briefly, she stayed in a hotel with her friend’s mother. She left when the woman wasn’t sure where she would be staying next.
With nowhere else to go, Anjela returned to her parents’ home. But another disagreement about visiting a friend’s home had her out again a few days later.
That evening, she sat, crying, on the sidewalk outside the high school.
High school administrative assistant Pam Bond was one staff member who came to her aid. She arranged for the teen to stay at a hotel for two nights.
Another student’s mother brought in two bags full of necessities, worth about $100.
Assistant Principal Angie Evans brought in clothes, too — plus things Anjela probably didn’t need, but she felt a teen girl should have, like nail polish.
Various donors sent money and gift cards to help with food.
The special education staff used their classroom’s washer and dryer to do Anjela’s laundry.
“It’s been amazing, the generosity of people and the willingness,” Bond said.
Anjela will still leave notes for Bond, telling her how thankful she is for the help.
Bond knows there’s a fine line between helping and enabling when it comes to homeless students. “We have to be careful with that,” she said.
About Anjela, “She wants to be responsible, but she wants the things that she’s never had, and that’s a loving direction,” Bond said.
Getting to here
Anjela was 11 when she entered foster care, along with two of her brothers.That year, when she was still living with her biological family, her youngest brother was hit and dragged by a vehicle in Helmsburg. He was flown to Methodist Hospital and eventually fully recovered.The accident had an emotional and physical impact on Anjela and her family.
“I was the oldest. I was the one who had to, like, protect,” she said.
“I started crying. It was just so scary. I got off the bus and there was all of these police cars, ambulance and everything,” she said.
Because of the incident, they were kicked out of their rental home and went to live with a relative for awhile.
This, according to the federal government, was when Anjela and her family became homeless.
The definition includes sharing housing with relatives because of economic hardship or loss of a home; living in substandard housing or in a hotel, campground, shelter or place humans don’t normally sleep; youth not living with their parents for any reason; and other situations.
The family was living in a camper at Brown County State Park when the Department of Child Services intervened.
From there, the children went to stay with their grandmother. Anjela said they were physically abused by another family member in the house, which caused them to be removed again.
She and her brothers were moved into James and Amy Sizemore’s home when she was in fifth grade. The family has taken in foster children for years; when interviewed for a feature story in 2010, they had 10 children, including their biological sons.
That family adopted Anjela when she was 15 years old, a freshman in high school.
Amy Sizemore believes Anjela became homeless this time by choice.
She said she knows teens argue with their parents and sometimes leave the home; Amy and James have hosted a few while they worked out their disagreements, she said.
She believes Anjela chose to leave because she didn’t want to follow the rules of the house.
Anjela believes her parents wanted her out, so she left.
Right now, Anjela cannot return to the Sizemores. Amy said there aren’t enough beds now, and this summer, the family plans to move out of state for a job opportunity.
Anjela, Amy says, wants to stay in Brown County. “It’s not like she couldn’t go with us, she just said she wasn’t doing it,” Amy said.
“She’s not a bad kid,” Amy said. “There’s not a lot of understanding in her about life in general and how it goes.
“I wish her the best, but I really don’t know how to help her when she won’t help herself.”
It takes a village
After her two nights in a hotel, Anjela stayed with Nashville United Methodist Church Pastor Mary Cartwright for a month until another school employee, Ronna Snyder, was able to take her in full time.She has been living with Snyder for almost three months.Her sights are set on returning to work at a local hotel in March so she can save money and get a place of her own. She recently started a job at the Brown County IGA. She is also working on getting her driver’s permit so that she can get her license this summer.
After high school, Anjela hopes to enter into the National Guard. “I just want to be there for my country,” she said.
If that doesn’t work out, she is interested in meteorology or cosmetology. She wants to attend Ivy Tech.
Right now, she is the manager for both girls basketball teams. She also is in choir. She ran cross-country in the fall and plans to run track in the spring.
“People are like, ‘Why do you run everywhere?’ And I am just like, ‘I love running,’” she said. “It gets my mind off of things. When I am running, my mind doesn’t wander.”
“Those are all things that are good for her, to help the interaction with her peers and just provide some enjoyment that maybe she wouldn’t be getting if she was just coming to school and working and having those other things in her life that are happening,” said Kirk Wrightsman, assistant coach for cross-country and track.
The positive attitude of those helping her is what keeps her going.
“There’s no negative feedback. People are always telling me that I need to work, need to learn,” she said, mentioning Evans, Principal Shane Killinger, Bond and Wrightsman.
“Even when a student has two parents, or more that are involved, it still takes a village,” Evans said.
“In these cases, it’s very true.”
Not a quitter
Anjela lists Wrightsman as the only man in her life she feels she can trust.“I can’t trust others. It’s always been like that since I was little. My parents got in fights and I was always hit by my real dad. I can never trust a man,” she said.Wrightsman, who is also her English teacher, sees that role as part of his job.
“I am not just a teacher to come in here from 8 o’clock to 3 o’clock and teach English. I feel like I am, especially with coaching, also a teacher of life lessons,” he said.
He is impressed with how she handles herself.
“She’s always positive. Yeah, she’s had her moments where she’s down, but, geez, when I think back to about when I was that age, if I had been dealing with that, I would not have dealt with it nearly as well as she has,” he said.
“I have other students who maybe aren’t in the exact same boat, but they have some similarities. I am always amazed at just how respectful those students are. When you think about what they’ve been dealing with and what they’re going through, you would think that maybe those would be kids that have behavior issues. It’s funny, those kids seem to be the one who are the most polite and most respectful,” Wrightsman said.
“She’s well on her way to do doing whatever she wants to do.”
Now that she has a place to stay until she can find her own way, Anjela knows she can complete high school.
“I am not a quitter. It’s wrong to quit school, but if I didn’t have a place to stay, I wouldn’t be in school right now. It would be too difficult to manage,” she said.
She believes her struggles are teaching her lessons to help her survive. One is the importance of following her instincts.
“I can point out the bad people now: The bad people who act like they’re good, but they’re actually not,” she said.
“When I do my schoolwork, I follow my head, but when it comes to, like, people, I don’t go with what my heart and head says. I go with my gut.”
Homelessness is defined by the federal government as lacking a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” It includes:
- Children sharing the housing of friends or relatives due to loss of housing/economic hardship.
- Children living in hotels, motels or campgrounds.
- Children living in emergency or transitional shelters.
- Children who are abandoned in hospitals.
- Children who are awaiting foster care placement.
- Children who have a primary nighttime residence which is a public or private place not ordinarily used for sleeping accommodations by humans.
- Children who are living in cars, parks, substandard housing, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations or similar settings.
- Migratory children.
- Unaccompanied youth not living with their parents for any reason.
All public school corporations have a liaison to help homeless families. All homeless students are automatically eligible to receive a variety of assistance under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
If someone you know is homeless with children, contact Director of Student Services Alan Kosinski at 812-988-6601 ext. 1108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All calls are confidential.
SOURCES: The Indiana Youth Institute and Brown County Schools