Press play to listen to an audio version of Markeesha's story.
Markeesha, who prefers to disclose her first name only, is a 37-year-old South Los Angeles native. She entered the foster care system just short of two years old. Markeesha has seen a lot and has dealt with the emotional impacts of transferring through multiple foster care homes to group facilities. Through it all, she has persevered.
Markeesha grew up in an area that stretches south from Watts and Compton and west across Interstate 110 into Inglewood, the Crenshaw District, and Baldwin Hills.
In a time when massive amounts of crack cocaine began flooding the streets, these ramifications left irreversible damages on Latinx and Black communities in more ways than one. Some youth, much like Markeesha, witnessed their parents' habits result in death, drug dependency, or jail. Her parents struggled with drug addiction and were susceptible to the perils of the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
Markeesha, the youngest of three siblings, wasn’t confronted with the same challenges as her brother and sister. "I didn't get to experience too much of being dragged in the streets as what I hear now, but my older siblings, they did," she said.
South LA encampment. Photos By Alysha Conner.
South LA is largely populated by Latinx and Black residents. This speaks to the alarming rate of young person’s experiencing homelessness in South LA. The homeless count among youth has risen from 644 to 1,094 in just one year: 57% of South LA's unhoused youth was identified as African American; Latinx rated the second-highest population. A disproportionate number also points to homeless youth who are more likely to be female.
"For children who have been in the system a long time, [they] have experienced transitions in placements where one placement stops, and they move on to another – they often end up in a group home or a residential setting," said Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey, a professor of child welfare at the University of Southern California.
McCroskey discussed the trauma that foster youth experience: "There are just incredibly traumatic circumstances where the foster family is not what we thought they were or when conditions in the group homes, either with the staff or with other youth, become problematic."
The lack of guidance, as well as neglect, can lead foster youth to fall victim to the juvenile justice system. This was Markeesha's story.
"I went to juvenile hall … I always wanted to fight people," Markeesha said.
Five days after Markeesha’s 17th birthday, she gave birth to her daughter, and her outlook began to change. "It struck home once I had my daughter. That's when reality set in, but I was still being a little naive. I was on probation. My mom went to jail while I was pregnant. I was sleeping from the pillow to [the] post stand while I was pregnant. I was doing my own thing, raising myself," she said.
Markeesha and her daughter lived in the Florence Crittenton Home in Lincoln Heights, which is now closed. She later moved to Gramercy Housing Group, located in the Crenshaw District.
"Once I went to the group home with my daughter, one social worker just broke me down," Markeesha said. "She was like, 'You have a child that you have to take care of. This attitude, this persona you're putting on like you don't want to talk to nobody … you need to let that go. You need to open up.'"
Markeesha broke down: She cried, but grew accustomed to expressing herself. "It was like a release of just all these built-up emotions," she said.
Determined, Markeesha began to see her own potential. She attended community college and continued at California State University, Los Angeles, where she received a bachelor's degree in social work. Her daughter followed in her academic footsteps and is attending a four-year college.
Markeesha has been working full time at a human rights organization and hopes to open her own group home for young girls and offer them the same support she once received. Not all homeless youth possess the same grit as Markeesha, but many stories of homeless adults begin like hers.