Once Homeless, Now Fighting Back
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 20:08
Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15) is nothing short of awe inspiring. With an infectious smile and welcoming attitude, he commits himself entirely to his endeavors, which include a summer internship with the California Homeless Youth Project. For Jimmy, helping homeless youth is about making sure that nobody else goes through what he went through. As a junior in high school, emotional and financial hardships left Jimmy and his family without a home and nearly without hope.
Have you always known you would pursue a career in social service, or did your experiences push you in that direction?
As a government major and justice and peace studies minor, I’ve planned to somehow enter public service. I think it’s definitely based on my experiences. I’ve been so blessed with everything that I’ve gotten, and in a way I feel like I owe it to the people in my community who didn’t get the same chance. I have to make them proud for letting me crash on their couches and feeding me. They’re always in the back of my head.
How do you think your experiences affect your presence here at Georgetown?
I’m very faithful — I’m Catholic — and being at Georgetown with the whole idea of men and women for others is truly amazing. I mean, it’s like God put me here for a reason. I definitely lost faith during the most difficult times, but faith helped me rehabilitate and move forward.
What helped you get past the difficult times in addition to your faith?
My economics teacher took me in and literally paid for all my college applications [and] my SATs and guided me through the whole process. … He is a huge role model for me. [And] my mom … always said academics come first, no matter the situation. I mean, in my whole family, she was the only one who went to school, to night school. She would always say, “Look, people have it worse out there. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Was it hard for you to leave your family and friends to come to Georgetown?
Back home, my friends are like my family. They’re the couches I crashed on. It’s weird coming to a place with such affluence and prestige and being “that kid.” But it’s been so rewarding and welcoming at the same time, and I wouldn’t change anything.
How do you identify with the label “homeless” and the connotations it carries?
People imagine the kid begging for food on the side of the street. I wasn’t on the street, but I was homeless. I hated the term in the beginning. … I also absolutely hate the connotation. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have a childhood or a loving family. I had a home for a good time. So it’s frustrating, but I have more to offer than just being known for being the homeless kid who went to Georgetown.
How do you feel about the available resources for teens in a similar situation?
In California, it’s just not widely understood or recognized. And that’s why the organization I’m with is pursuing legislation. The period of time and severity of my situation wasn’t comparable to other people’s situations, and I need to advocate for the kids who can’t advocate for themselves. Because I was valedictorian, class president, student body president, people took notice when I stopped coming to class and acted differently. Luckily, someone asked me [about it]. The number of kids at my [high] school that are homeless is really high, but it’s just not recognized. It’s like they’re invisible.
Were you always open about being homeless?
The reason I can talk about it now is to inspire people to take whatever situation they are in, whatever oppression, whatever was put on them, and to challenge it. It’s going to be hard, but you can get over it and kick ass and make a difference so nobody else has to go through what you went through. That’s basically what drives me. … And I’ve decided that I’m just going to own the term. It’s not going to define me. … There’s no label on my forehead.
How does this tie into your current involvement in the California Homeless Youth Project?
The place I’m working now is incredible. … I interned [there] three days a week in the summer, and now … [they’re] hiring me on as a consultant. It’s weird to think that two years ago, I was homeless, and now I’m consulting and the campaign developer for a statewide plan to end youth homelessness.
What advice would you give to friends and family who know someone who is homeless? What is the best way to reach out?
Help them and educate them on their rights. Don’t ever feel ashamed to ask for help. I mean, for me, a bottle of laundry detergent was incredibly empowering. On a humanistic level, if you pass someone on M Street who is asking for money, just smile. Don’t make them feel that they are inferior to you. They’re not less of a human being because of their circumstances.