Roy Juarez has been living out of his car for the past three years and has traveled to almost 300 cities across the United States. He has spoken to more than 100,000 youth along the way with one simple goal: to inspire teenagers to dream.
Last week Juarez’s “Homeless by Choice” tour stopped in Calhoun and at the Voluntary Action Center, Sonoraville Middle and Gordon Central schools.
He shared his heart-wrenching and personal experience with homelessness, describing how he overcame struggles to survive and eventually graduate college.
Juarez story began at the age of 14, when he, along with his siblings, was left homeless on the streets of San Antonio, Texas.
“I remember being homeless,” he recalls. “ It’s a hidden minority, because you don’t want people to know that you’re not like them.”
When Juarez did have a home life, it wasn’t much better. He grew up in a troubled household, where his father was violent.
“He used to beat on my mom all the time, and it would hurt when you would be sleeping in the other room when you hear your mom cry ‘help me, help me,’ but being a kid, there is nothing you can do,” he recalled.
Juarez said his mother, after living for 20 years with a violent husband, finally left and took her five children with her into hiding.
Juarez then told of moving from place to place with his mother and siblings to flee from their abusive father. This went on, until one day, his mother accepted an offer to live with a police officer and his son, but the offer was contingent upon her not bringing her children. She accepted, and Juarez became homeless.
Not only was he homeless, but he also had to find a way to take care of his nine-year old sister and two-year old brother.
“My grandmother said, ‘I can take her (Juarez’ sister), but we can’t take you too,’ and then my best friend’s aunt said she would take my brother,” he said.
Juarez, however, could not find a permanent home for himself and spent the next few years traveling house-to-house staying with whoever would take him.
He recalls school not being a priority during this time and when he actually went to classes, his mind was flooded with worries about his siblings, his mother and where he was going to spend the next evening.
Juarez hit an epiphany at a Dallas, Texas hotel when he went inside searching for food. There was a lady speaking at the hotel who told a story about her own struggles that Juarez said “gave me hope.”
Hope enough to take his little brother and go to a local church for help.
“I said (to the minister) listen, my little brother and I don’t have a place to live, but if you let us stay in this church, then I will clean it every Sunday and every Wednesday,” he recalled. “ She said ‘No, you are going to come stay with me.’”
At 17, Juarez went back to high school and shortly after received his diploma. Now, Juarez wants to pay it forward and become a mentor to children across the nation.
“Don’t give up on life. I know how hard it is,” he told the crowd. “Many nights I survived off ketchup packets, but that doesn’t give us a reason to give up.”
Juarez said that he couldn’t have done it without a mentor in his life.
“It was mentors that changed my life,” he said. “At times I wanted to give up, but they wouldn’t give up on me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
The “Homeless by Choice” tour is expected to reach Oregon sometime this week. Juarez will be back in Georgia in mid-October at Georgia State University in Atlanta.