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Emma Y. - Teen Homelessness

This interviewee wanted to remain anonymous, so the name "Emma Y." is used as a replacement for her privacy :)

Emma is a 14-year-old girl who has overcome homelessness in Texas. Her biological father has not been present in her life, and she moved in with her stepfather at 2 years old. She has 28 siblings in total, 7 from her biological father, 8 from her step-father, and 13 more step-siblings. All of her siblings are either half-siblings or step-siblings. Emma only really knows 15 of these siblings and has only lived with one - until she ran away at 16, when Emma was 10.

After happily living with her mother and stepfather for 4 years, they finalized his adoption of her when she was 6 years old. This is when her mom and he began to fight and when he became physically abusive to both of them. Emma stated, "I think he was waiting until the adoption was finalized before [letting] things go downhill." She mentioned that he would body-slam her mom across the wall and other similar things that made him "out of control".

Right around Emma's 7th birthday, Emma and her mom went to church to speak to some of the people there about their situation. They were given a recommendation for a shelter, so they went home to pack everything up. When they got home, her father was not there, so they grabbed as much of their belongings as they could, told him that they were going to go swimming, and left.

They had to live in a car for a few days before entering the women's and children's shelter, but they were eventually able to get in. Here is Emma's description of "The Place" (the shelter): "The Place itself was not a very good environment. There were some people who were very sweet, and very kind, and we're still friends with some of them to this day. But, there were some people who were not that. I'm Hispanic, so there was a lot of racism there."

After staying at this shelter for two months, Emma's mom reached out to one of her childhood friends, who lived a few states away and ran a successful business. This lady then said that she was going to have her cousin meet up with Emma and her mom to help by giving them clothes, money, a laptop, etc. Emma shared: "The spot that they chose to meet at was really close to our old house, where my father lived. That should have been the first red flag, but it didn't really stick out to us. So, we showed up and the guy was already standing outside. As soon as we walked up, a large pocketknife fell out of his pocket. I was just a little kid and I didn't realize that that was not a good thing, so I picked it up and gave it back to him. He was just standing there - he didn't have boxes or anything there with him except for papers. He served my mom with divorce papers. So, my mom's friend had been working with my dad [against us]."

Following this unfortunate situation, Emma and her mom moved back into the women's and children's shelter. In fact, the shelter had to be shut down because they thought they were being followed by Emma's father.

Two months later, they went to court and Emma was forced to move back in with her father at around 8 years old because her mom did not have a stable place to live. She was able to see her mom every other weekend and on Thursdays for 2 hours. Things seemed to be okay until a few months later when Emma began stating that she missed her mom. This made her dad "freak out" and Emma shared that instead of hurting her mom, he began hurting her.

When Emma was 10, another court case was brought about and this time she was able to speak to the judge during the hearing. Unfortunately, the judge told her that she "was lying about everything," and things just got worse. The custody agreement was changed to where she could see her mom a maximum of 96 hours a year with supervised visitations every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saturday (if there was one) of the month. She stated, "I barely saw my mom anymore."

Emma's father then got remarried and the abuse worsened. He did not abuse his wife, instead, she joined in on his abuse of Emma. Below are some examples of their abuse:

"On my 10th birthday, instead of getting me a gift, he said that I didn't take enough care of my hair, so he took me to a salon and made me shave my head."

"He would make me stay up until 3-4 in the morning cleaning the entire house - their room, my room, literally everywhere."

"They were weirdly specific about how I dressed, what I did, and that kind of stuff. I was basically only allowed to wear jeans, which sounds silly, but to an extent, it gets annoying."

"Whenever I didn't clean right or when they were just mad, I'd get boiling water poured on me, they would take a drill and put it in my hair to rip out all my hair, or they would just hit me."

"One time they took a thermometer that had been sitting in hot candy, pressed it in my arm, and flung the boiling hot candy in my face. So, I had scars all over my face and my arms."

"They would go through my room and make sure I didn't have food, books that they didn't like, anything basically."

"They had a padlock on the pantry and the fridge and I was only allowed to eat bread and cheese for every meal. I wasn't allowed to eat with them."

This terrible abuse lasted for three more years. Emma was also constantly moved around and has attended 14 different schools. However, one day, a few weeks before Emma turned 13, everything changed. Emma shared: "My mental health had gotten really bad at that point. There was a week when I skipped homeroom every day (first class of the day). I ended up getting caught one day because there was someone else skipping, and they had been really loud. So, they called me to the office. The counselor was aware of my situation, and she told [the office] not to do anything to alert him (her father) that I wasn't in class, but they did it anyway. He didn't come home that night until 10:30 PM, and I was up cleaning, so he walked in, I said 'hi,' and he was wasted (Emma mentioned that he was an alcoholic and regularly came home drunk). He walked up to me, grabbed me by my shoulders, picked me up, pinned me against the wall, and started hitting me. I was finally like 'I am so done with this; this is not happening,' so I started kicking him - trying to get him off of me, but he's like 300 pounds and I was super underweight, so that didn't work out so well." There were cameras in every room of the house that they would watch Emma on, including one in the kitchen where this incident occurred. Emma continued, "His wife brought out her phone and started recording me because I said 'I want to live with my mom! I want to live with my mom! I hate it here!'. She started shoving the camera in my face and started screaming 'Okay, tell me who you want to live with! Tell me her name!' and I said 'I want to live with [her mother's name]! I never want to see [her father's name] again!'. She said, 'Okay, I'm going to use this in court to show that she's brainwashing you!'. I thought that was stupid, but yea, she said that. Eventually, he tripped, fell, and screamed 'Go to your room!'. So, I went upstairs, went to my room, and was in the middle of having a panic attack because... that was really bad. The only place I knew they wouldn't get in my face was in the shower, so I took a shower and was thinking 'I'm not going to live here anymore. I'm not going to do this.' I got dressed and listened at my door for a second to make sure they were in their room. Then, I put on my shoes really fast, because they had a camera in my room. I opened the door and I... ran to my friend's house, which was only a little bit away, but was still terrifying because he was chasing me."

Once Emma got to her friend's house, she started banging on the door and ringing the doorbell repeatedly until her friend got to the door. She burst into tears again after seeing her friend. They then went into the living room together and her friend's mom called the cops. When the cops came, they took pictures of Emma's bruises, questioned her about what had happened, and walked to her dad's house. When they got there, they found him with a loaded gun in his hand. He was only arrested for one night, as his wife used Emma's college fund to bail him out.

Emma then began house hopping for some time - staying on a friend's couch for a few days and then moving on to another. She mentioned, "This whole time CPS was involved, but they didn't do anything. CPS was telling me where I had to go, but they were not checking on the people to make sure that they were fit to take somebody in. I was literally sleeping on blankets on the floor in half the houses - and I stayed in 6 different houses."

One day, a little over a year ago, her dad texted her mom that she needed to take his daughter because she was "out of control". At this time, Emma was living at her grandma's house who hated her, "a lot." Her dad arranged for her mother to pick her up at a meeting place, and once she saw her mom, she opened the car door and ran to her. She has not seen her dad or her grandma since.

Emma then began living with her mom full-time, who didn't have a very stable job, so they were living with a lot of roommates. She shared: "Eventually, [we lived with] one of her friends from June 2022- January 2023. They were super sweet at first, and then, they were not. They said that my mom and I took up too much space, even though they offered us an extra room for all of our stuff + our own rooms - they had a pretty big house. I ended up tearing up my ACL and my meniscus, so I never even came out of my room. One day while I went to work with my mom, my mom's coworker and her husband started going through my stuff in my room and trashed it. They literally took a trash bag from the trashcan and dumped it all over my room. They also put empty bottles of alcohol and vapes in my room so my mom would think I was doing all of that stuff, when I wasn't."

That night, her mom had come back home, but Emma was out at dinner with her cousin. Once her mom came in and saw what had happened, she immediately sent pictures to Emma. They both decided that it would be best for Emma to stay with her cousin. So, Emma came back, packed her bags, and left in the morning. Emma added, "When I came back, they had peed on my blankets and my sheets." So, Emma lived with her cousin for a few weeks until they moved to another part of Texas. While Emma and her mom were separated, her mom was packing up her stuff and working to find a new living arrangement.

Emma is now living with her mom and has not seen any of her siblings since she left. After moving, her mom found a job at a concrete construction company as a truck dispatcher, and this is "the most stable job she has ever had." Emma is currently being homeschooled and plans to graduate early and go to college, hopefully on a scholarship, because she no longer has a college fund. She also has court in August against her dad, which will hopefully bring her to be completely disconnected from him. However, Emma did share that there have been 7 CPS cases (5 cases on her, 2 on her sister) on him and the only thing the courts ever did was make him take parenting classes.

Additionally, Emma shared that she has three medical conditions: hypertonia, stress-induced vasovagal syncope, and bad blood sugar issues. Her hypertonia is genetic, and it causes her joints to easily pop out of place. This is why she has suffered so many injuries, such as her torn ACL and meniscus mentioned previously. She was also diagnosed with two health conditions due to her father's abuse. Stress-induced vasovagal syncope causes her to faint or have seizures every time she has PTSD episodes. And, her really bad blood sugar issues stem from not being well-nourished while living with her father.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world, Emma. It is so important to highlight that homelessness can happen to anyone, regardless of their age. I wish you the absolute best in your future endeavors.

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Ed Zappia
Ed Zappia

This is likely the most tragic story of all. It is incredible that ProjectWHY gives her a platform to tell her story, and for us to learn about these types of stories. This is really amazing work Arielle/ProjectWHY.



This is a horror story that almost defies belief. The worst part is that children have absolutely no control over their lives, and are just shuttled from place to place with no help in sight. The only thing to look forward to is their legal independence, although at that point they can't simply shake off decades of childhood abuse. We hope this young lady gets into college and leaves her wildly abusive family behind forever. Best of luck, Emma!

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