When we think of homeless people, we think of adults but we never think about homeless children. In many Latin American countries, we see a lot of poverty and many women with their children begging for money. We don’t know their stories and often pass them by without hesitation. Every person has a story and for Roy Juarez Jr., he has made it his mission in life to share his in an effort to help others.
In the U.S. there are 1.6 million homeless people, including children. Juarez and his family were a victim of domestic violence. When his mother found his father in an adulterous relationship she asked him for a divorce. That’s when he became violent and in an effort to run away from the broken home, he and his siblings went separate ways, living with friends and relatives that would take them in. Except Juarez wasn’t able to find a home, so he became homeless at the age of 14 and lived out of his backpack for 2.5 years.
He roamed the streets trying to find something to eat and even remembers eating ketchup packets to stay alive. One day he snuck into a hotel where a conference was taking place. He got a free meal and heard a life-changing speech by Lieutenant Colonel Consuelo Castillo that changed his life forever.
That day he went to a minister’s house and asked if he could live in the church and in turn he would clean. The minister refused and instead took him and his little brother to live in their home, but he had to go back to school. He graduated high school at the age of 20 and then enrolled at a community college.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing too great and was put on academic probation. One day, the dean asks him to introduce a speaker for an event that was taking place at the school. “It happened to be Consuelo, the same person from 7 years ago, so I introduced her as the person who gave me a second chance twice and never knew it,” says Roy Juarez Jr.
She was the person that motivated him to make a change in his life and this time he had the opportunity to speak with her. She gave him an internship at her company and three months later, she let him go. “I was upset, but she was not firing me, she just wanted me to go back to school, finish college and create a better future,” explains Juarez. He enrolled into a University and graduated with a degree in business and psychology.
He knew that he wanted to help people, but didn’t know how. “When I graduated from college, all I could think about is why did I make it, what about the 1.6 million homeless teenagers, why did I get so lucky,” says Juarez.
This is when he decided to live homeless for the second time. “I was going to live in my car and travel the country and speak for free and reach as many young people as possible. This is how the My Bag, My Home: Homeless by Choice Tour was created. He tried to get sponsors and had no luck, but that didn’t stop him. “I didn’t care that I was living in my car because after speaking with all of those students, they would come up to me and thank me for being their role model, for sharing my story and they would share their stories with me,” he says.
On one occasion he had a young man ask him how much he was making from speaking about his experiences. “That’s when I realized that he was asking me if I was doing this for him or because I was banking from this and at that point, I realized I could do this on my own with no sponsors,” he said. He spoke over 500 times and to over 100,000 students across the country.
“There are young people out there that are lost and confused, a lot of our kids have lost hope and have lost direction and at the end of the day, it comes down to their families because you want to feel loved, you want to feel wanted,” he says. He is an advocate for homeless teens because it’s not by choice and even though you don’t see kids out on the street, there are kids that are couch surfing, who a doubled-up in a home, who are living in their car but still go to school each day.
“It still amazes me because a lot of times you learn to become invisible as a homeless kid because if you’re invisible, you pass through. When you’re invisible and you live in someone’s home, then you’re not a burden to them, they let you stay, which means you have food to eat for that day, you can shower, you learn to be under the radar, you learn to be invisible,” he says.
Juarez has had teens tell him that today was their last day, that they had everything planned and that they were going to take their lives, but after hearing him speak, he’s given them a chance to live. He has completely changed his life around and now lives in Los Angeles and is working on creating curriculums and programs for young kids to keep inspiring them. He developed a program called Impact and it takes every lesson that he’s learned from the tour, from his personal life, that helps educate and inspire students to become better leaders. He’s also developed mentoring and motivational programs. He continues to spread his message and has helped change the lives of many who are grateful for providing the ounce of hope they very much needed.