While it might not have been her roof, at least there was always one over her head.
Hailey Sherman, 22, said she knew she had it bad when she was growing up — her mother and she moved from place to place, often crashing at friends’ houses or renting a home or apartment for one month at a time before getting kicked out.
It wasn’t until recently she realized she was technically homeless for much of her young life.
“I was kinda in denial: ‘I don’t want to be lumped into this group,’” she said.
Getting involved with the Butte Youth Advisory Council shifted her perspective “in a big way.”
“When you’re so scared to fall back into it yourself, you don’t want to look at your past — you want to move forward,” she said. “It forced me to look backward, and see the struggles other people are having and realize I can make a difference.”
The Butte County Youth Advisory Council was formed this February to provide youth with leadership and lobbying opportunities. But it’s also offering young people who have experienced homelessness, poverty, incarceration or a negative history with the foster care system with resources and a community, Sherman said.
It’s a place where they will hear “you can do it” and “we care, we want to help you get out of it” instead of “lazy,” “dirty,” or “bum.”
With a home base at Sixth Street Center for Youth, the council engages those aged 14-24 through activities such as public presentations, collaborative artwork, letters to council members, creative writing and radio programming.
Members even participated in youth leadership and policy event the Taking Action Conference, lobbying state policy makers for $25 million in funding for homeless youth outreach programs like Sixth Street Center.
The council also advises the Butte County Runaway and Homeless Youth Task Force made up of local agency representatives focused on meeting the needs of youth in the county.
Josh Indar, youth council mentor, said “little by little” the young council members have become more confident, more excited about their futures.
“Every single thing we take for granted in our day-to-day life are things these youth lack,” he said. “We are trying to change people’s perception of who these youth are. ... There’s this perception they’re lazy, but they’re working harder than the average person to get their basic needs met.”
The youth council members who spoke with lawmakers at the Sacramento conference were “so resilient and focused” on trying to improve conditions for those experiencing homelessness, he said.
“They were so effective in what they said and how they presented themselves to these powerful people they’ve never had access to,” he said. “I was inspired by them.”
Going to the conference really solidified for Sherman just how much young people need good advocates on their side to help them fight and reach their goals.
“I think this council not only gives them a voice, but it also gives them a sense of community, more than what they have,” she said. “This gives them a place to go to actively fight and increase their knowledge. They don’t have to sit there and just one day wish they could make it out.”
Jessica Candela, youth council facilitator, said the formation of the council has provided everybody with a chance to learn from each other. She is so proud of what the members have accomplished.
“They have amazing dreams and aspirations,” she said. Many want to own businesses. One wants to go to college and study public speaking. Sherman will graduate with a child development and psychology degree from Chico State University this fall, and has a home and three jobs.
“We’re providing a space where they can talk about their dreams and see themselves as leaders,” Candela said, “whatever career they end up in.”
Candela said her role, aside from leading group meetings, is helping youth get connected to resources and community organizations, which can be difficult for them to take on as they worry about food and shelter day in and day out. The council is largely led by its members, who decide how involved they’d like to be and which activities they want to pursue.
Twenty-one people have participated its formation. Meetings are usually small, with one to eight youth in attendance. The group leaders are hoping to improve upon that as the council ages.
Darien Villalobos, who attended his first council meeting June 20, was already looking forward to getting more involved. He said he wants to help instill confidence in others. The council represents progress to him, a place where people can build self-esteem and take a step in the right direction.
“We gotta make moves, we gotta do something,” he said. “We can’t let talent go to waste.”
The Butte Youth Action Council is funded by The Pollination Project, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley that offers “seed grants” to grassroots endeavors.