Home, Sweet Home for Me; Others Not So Much

My ‘Home-less’ 18 Years Ended, My Efforts Continue

Diane Nilan
5 min readMay 2, 2023

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Blue Ridge Parkway entrance in NC.
Blue Ridge Parkway entrance in NC. Photo Diane Nilan

May 1, 2023

…marks a milestone for me! For the first time in 18 years I have a home address! I left Illinois (no hard feelings!) after living there since 1969. My new home state, NC, isn’t new to me since I’ve been staying here off and on with family/friends since I hit the road for HEAR US (www.hearus.us) to chronicle family/youth homelessness back in 2005. This move doesn’t mean I hit it rich. Family kindness embraces this silver-headed nomad.

My move to the spectacular NC mountains doesn’t mean I’m stopping my efforts to address family/youth homelessness. Nope! But I do need to sort through stuff that I stashed 18 years ago when I abandoned conventional life (living in a townhouse) for life on backroads in a small camper-van to explore and expose invisible homelessness.

In my sorting process, I unearthed the following poignant reflection on home from Andrea, a kick-ass school district homeless liaison and counselor I know from down in Arkansas. She shared (on FB) these poignant quotes from kids without homes, some without any adult in their lives.

Youth kicked to the curb.
Youth kicked to the curb. Photo Diane Nilan

A day in the life…I [Andrea] was given permission to share this. It may strike a chord with my fellow mental health professionals.

“I think some part of me has always felt this way, it’s just gotten to the point where all of me feels it now.”

“It’s like being weightless and heavy at the exact same time.”

“I feel like I don’t know how to live and actually experience living.”

“It’s not even sadness really. It’s emptiness. It’s nothingness. I wish it was sadness. I have prayed for sadness.”

“I was in the third grade the first time I ever thought about killing myself.”

“It’s like I’m always drowning in a giant lake with no one around for miles and then I come up for air just in time….only to be sucked back under again. And again. And again.”

“I remember knowing and feeling that kids didn’t like me. That I wasn’t accepted. I tried hard to fit in and to be kind and make friends. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me that they didn’t want to include me, and then I just stopped trying to understand and just accepted always being left out. I still feel that way. The same way I felt in 1st grade.”

“I know it’s selfish, but they’re not the ones that live in misery. I carry this alone. And have my whole life. I can’t think of anything more selfish than that.”

“And I vividly remember all of their eyes fixed on me, wanting to laugh, but being afraid of getting into trouble. So they looked away. Nobody helped me. I spent that whole recess under the slide crying.”

“I don’t know for sure that anyone would miss me.”

“Worthless, stupid, inadequate, lost, undeserving, disgusting, unloved, unwanted.”

Girl reading.
Girl reading. Photo Diane Nilan

[Andrea’s colleague] Today was a rough day for me professionally. I’ve processed and cried as much as I can for today and in doing so I’ve recollected poignant statements from several of my clients over the months that struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. I guess I’m sharing because client’s words matter. Their experiences matter. These are young adults whose pain runs deep and wide and who can usually pinpoint the year, the grade, the event, the relationship, the trauma that put them on this path. How powerful.

Most of my clients are 18–25 and they ALWAYS go back to [age] 5 or 7 or 8 or 12. They identify distinct moments when everything changed or when nothing changed at all. Hearing them recount vivid thoughts and feelings from 15 years ago is like watching a movie that you know will break your heart but there’s nothing you can do to change the ending and you’re trapped in the theater.

We must do more to teach our children well. And our educators and our parents…..we all have more power than we know. We can heal others and we can hurt others far more than we realize. Some clients identify THAT ONE friend, or teacher, or family member that treated them with kindness, that accepted them, that loved them. But some clients don’t.

Life is just absolutely heartbreaking sometimes, y’all. And I’m just needing to share. As therapists we are the farmers, and the keepers, and the listeners, and the healers….and sometimes the criers. Today I was mostly the latter. Thank goodness for exceptional supervision, considerate colleagues, Friday evenings with family, and wine.

Here’s to all of you who made a difference this week. Enjoy your weekend.

I’ll recharge and be back to kickin’ ass come Monday.

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Andrea, and countless others kick-ass McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons doing similar work with the Forgotten Students — those experiencing homelessness, trauma, abject poverty, abuse and more — head out each day, often ill-equipped, exhausted, with inadequate information, to do the impossible: help kids succeed in school.

This seemingly impossible undertaking goes on in every school district (with varying degrees of effort) across the country. The Andreas of the world often are as overlooked as those students they strive to serve — kids without a place to call home. Some districts do better than others. Here’s a look at some going beyond the norm.

Keeper, my sis’s dog, helps me get settled in. Photos by Diane Nilan

On this occasion of me landing a home address after so many years on the road, I’m reflecting on the reality that millions of others — families, youth on their own, and adults — still lack a place to call home.

Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty, By America, uses this brilliant quote from There There:

“Kids are jumping out the windows of burning buildings, falling to their deaths. And we think the problem is that they’re jumping.”
Tommy Orange, There There

Some of us believe it’s far beyond time to look beyond the problem of homelessness and poverty to demand a radically different approach to these pervasive, destructive issues.

I’m officially a North Carolina poverty abolitionist.

[Matthew Desmond] A poverty abolitionist evaluates their own life: how they spend and invest, where they live. A poverty abolitionist supports rebalancing the safety net, with less rich aid and more poor aid. And a poverty abolitionist strives for inclusive communities and turns away from segregation. (Christian Science Monitor, 4/28/23)

Join me!

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Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 20 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us