Trying Not To Break Down — A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School About 2.5 million children in America are homeless. In Boise, Idaho, 14-year-old Caydden Zimmerman struggles with the anxieties of middle school while living in a homeless shelter.
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Trying Not To Break Down — A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School

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Trying Not To Break Down — A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School

Trying Not To Break Down — A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School

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NOEL KING, HOST:

In any given year, 2 1/2 million kids in the U.S. are homeless. That's according to the American Institute for Research (ph). And that number is rising as house prices and rental costs also rise. The problem is really visible in big cities but also in some that you might not think of, like Boise, Idaho, which is the fastest growing city in the U.S. Amanda Peacher of Boise State Public Radio recently spent time with one eighth grader who is living this reality.

AMANDA PEACHER, BYLINE: Caydden Zimmerman's school days start early and end late. He has an hour-and-a-half-long bus ride to get from the homeless shelter where he's staying to middle school.

CAYDDEN ZIMMERMAN: Wake up 5:45, brush my teeth, do my hair and then I hurry and rush downstairs so I can get out and catch my bus on time.

PEACHER: Caydden is staying at the shelter with his 11-year-old brother and his grandma, Pam Cantrell. She says they moved here after getting an eviction notice.

PAM CANTRELL: The landlord decided to sell the property. And we just could not find a place that we could afford. The more I looked, the more depressed I got. I just - I didn't know what to do.

PEACHER: Cantrell gets a small disability stipend from the government, but that's nowhere near enough to cover rent in Boise. Cantrell is grateful for the shelter but says it's hard on her grandsons.

CANTRELL: My youngest one, he can be a little terror because he's upset by it, you know? He gets angry. And then he'll sit in the corner. And he'll just say, I hate this place. I hate this place.

PEACHER: It's difficult for Caydden, too. But you wouldn't always know it. Caydden is a social 14-year-old with a big smile. One of his favorite things about school is seeing his friends.

CAYDDEN: My friends know about it, me being homeless. And they don't tease me on it. I'm trying to work hard - and that it's just an effort to try not to break down.

PEACHER: It's harder for students who are anxious and worried to concentrate. Homeless kids tend to score lower on standardized tests and have lower graduation rates. And sometimes, Caydden does break down with his friends.

CAYDDEN: They always bring me up when I'm feeling down. They make me smile when I'm sad.

PEACHER: In this moment, though, Caydden is doing OK.

CAYDDEN: Hey, Ash.

PEACHER: It's lunchtime at school. Caydden carries his tray of food to a table with his friends.

CAYDDEN: Yeah, you can have some. You can have these since I have better ones.

PEACHER: Caydden's dad is out of the picture, and his mom has a drug problem. Before his grandma stepped in, he had to help take care of his little brother.

CAYDDEN: Help get him ready for school - I had to feed Keston when Mom was passed out for days. There was one time when we only had cereal for, like, two weeks.

PEACHER: Caydden has been trying to convince his grandma that she should let him get a job so he can help with rent.

CAYDDEN: It's, like, something I want to do. I just want to help out.

PEACHER: But Cantrell won't have it.

CANTRELL: You need to be a child as long as possible, Caydden. You don't want to be in a big hurry to grow up, honey.

PEACHER: A few weeks later, there's good news in Caydden's world. They got a house. It's about 700 square feet that they share with a roommate. For Caydden, it's a huge improvement.

CAYDDEN: I feel much more comfortable and safe.

PEACHER: And probably most importantly, he can say something he hasn't been able to for quite some time.

CAYDDEN: This is home (laughter).

PEACHER: For NPR News, I'm Amanda Peacher in Boise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMUEL LINDON'S "TALLIS ONE")

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