Sep 09, 2019
Jayden Yarbrough was only 16 years old when he found himself without a home in his own community of Riverside, California. A bright and academically ambitious student, Yarbrough’s priorities quickly changed from homework and hanging out with friends to finding a place to shower.
With the support of friends, teachers, and a groundbreaking new housing program at The Grove Community Church, Yarbrough graduated from high school last May. This fall, he joins the freshman class at Humboldt State University, where he’s thrilled to have a fresh start on life.
“From the moment I stepped on campus, I feel supported to aspire.” says Yarbrough, who arrived in Humboldt County for the first time a week before the semester began.
Yarbrough hand-picked Humboldt State after hearing about HSU’s commitment to social justice and seeing gorgeous images of the redwoods. Before school started, he would look at photos of Humboldt every day, imagining life beneath the redwoods.
“I need space,” says Yarbrough, who says he started breathing deeper as soon as he arrived at HSU. Growing up in a large family where homelife was often turbulent, peace and quiet are not things he takes for granted. Yet, he looks back on his experience with gratitude. “It was exhausting to find a place to sleep every night,” says Yarbrough, describing the stress of moving between friends’ couches and shelters, often “crashing” in risky environments.
To get by, Yarbrough often depended on the friendship and resourcefulness of others in the homeless community. “Homeless people are some of the most perceptive, kind, hard-working people in the world,” says Yarbrough. “They understand empathy and connection and human life.”
In Riverside, Yarbrough was accepted to a new housing program at Grove Community Church during his senior year of high school. It took four weeks of paperwork, interviews, and background checks, but Yarbrough became the second applicant to live in one of the church’s four 600 square foot homes. He was overwhelmingly grateful to be housed his last semester of high school. “It gave me the tools to prepare myself for college,” says Yarbrough. “I was grateful to put housing on the back of my mind.”
Reflecting on his past, Yarbrough believes that bearing the weight of being homeless at such a young age is why he’s on the right path today. He describes how the requirements of applying and enrolling to HSU pale in comparison to the stress of navigating school without a place to sleep or food to eat. At HSU, Yarbrough lives in Sankofa House, a themed residence hall for students interested in exploring Black culture, history, and identity and plans to major in English with an emphasis on African-American literature. “There’s so much Black ancestry that has been pocketed away. It’s fascinating,” says Yarbrough, who is working with other students to establish an “equitable and representative” Black Student Union on campus.