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Abusive Childhood, Then Foster Care Led to Young Man’s Homelessness

Tuesday 20th of August 2019 | North America, United States
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
News

Matthew “Fire” Mishefski’s experience with homelessness is the last of three stories on LGBTQ homeless youth as reported by the JJIE’s New York City Bureau. He uses the pronouns he/him.

NEW YORK — Matthew “Fire” Mishefski was days away from completing his makeshift encampment. After years of homelessness, the 24-year-old knew what he needed to successfully make it on the streets. It consisted of a bike, trailer, hammock, cooler, electric stove, solar panel — he was fully equipped to survive frigid Northeastern temperatures.

“I stopped begging because I didn’t need to anymore,” Mishefski said. “I was working. I was a carpenter. Jesus was a carpenter. He built houses. He advocated for the poor. That’s what I’ve started to do.”

But on Jan. 4, 2019, officers from the New York Police Department’s 13th precinct approached Mishefski in Manhattan’s Union Square Park and sent him to Beth Israel hospital — stating that he was a harm to himself or to others.

Because it wasn’t an arrest, the officers didn’t run his name through their system. If they had, they would have been required to process his possessions. Instead, they threw them all out, including his carpentry tools, citing bedbugs.

Mishefski was released from the hospital a few hours later. He went to the precinct to retrieve his belongings. When they told him it had been thrown out, he suffered a mental and physical breakdown — crying, coughing and spitting at the officers.

Mishefski and other queer youth who live on the streets are routinely misserved by the systems ostensibly designed to address their needs. Their modes of survival are often criminalized — resulting in an overrepresentation of queer homeless youth in the criminal justice system.

The LGBTQ community’s rate of interaction with police is significantly higher than that of the straight and cisgender population. According to a 2011 report by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, queer youth and young adults were 53% more likely to be stopped by the police, 60% more likely to be arrested as minors and 90% more likely to have had a juvenile conviction.

After years of trauma at home, in foster care shelters and run-ins with the police on the streets, Mishefski had nowhere to turn but inward. Like other queer kids with similar challenges, his solution was to become self-sufficient. And after the NYPD tossed his stuff, even that failed.

A broken home

Mishefski had a stable childhood living with his parents and sister outside Wilkes-Barre, Pa. When he was 7, his parents divorced. His mother stopped letting his father visit them, which broke down the father-son relationship.

They moved in with Mishefski’s grandmother, who had a positive influence on his upbringing. “My grandma was the only person in my whole family to believe in the man I can be,” he said.

But that influence was short-lived.

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    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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