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Once Homeless, Student Now Advocates for Youth in Same Situation

October 29, 2014 – Jimmy Ramirez (C’15) advocates for homeless youth because he knows exactly what it feels like – he and his mother and sister were without a home while in high school.

“The reason I share my story is it’s not about me, it’s not about my mom, it’s not about our situation,” explains Ramirez, who lived near San Francisco. “It's for the 1.6 million homeless youth who go without safe, stable and secure places to sleep every year in this country. It’s about humanizing this issue and making it so that other people realize there are students who are homeless.”

During his first year at Georgetown, Ramirez – a government major minoring in justice and peace studies and film and media studies – got exposed to the Jesuit tradition of men and women for others and decided he wanted to take action.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS

His First Year Orientation to Community Involvement (FOCI) experience at the university introduced him to volunteer activism and social justice issues, including homelessness in Washington, D.C.

Ramirez later researched the topic in a justice and peace studies class and came across the California Homeless Youth Project, a policy initiative committed to ending youth homelessness.

He interned with the project and was able to assist with the development of the first-ever statewide plan to end youth homelessness, More Than a Roof.

He says these experiences along with his own reflections gave him the strength to talk openly about his story and make a positive impact.

“I saw the courage of other youths who had stepped up and told their stories,” says Ramirez, who now works for the National Network for Youth, the nation’s leading organization advocating for the needs of homeless and disconnected youth. “I realized that I was doing an injustice to a population that stays in the shadows by not talking about it.”

JESUIT VALUE

Jimmy Ramirez shown laughing.Jimmy Ramirez (C'15) says his experience working with the California Homeless Youth Project and developing the first-ever statewide plan to end youth homelessness helped him reflect and open up about his own experience.

Ramirez shared his experience with a university audience during an October 2013 talk at TEDxGeorgetown.

“That Jesuit value for being a man for others weighed on me, and that really allowed me to come out and share my story,” he says.

During his freshman year of high school, Ramirez and his family found themselves homeless after being evicted from their foreclosed home.

The trio found another house in a rougher neighborhood, but found themselves evicted again after Ramirez’s junior year of high school.

PURSUING A DREAM

The constant worry and scramble for basic necessities on a daily basis took its toll on Ramirez and he fell behind in school.

But school officials noticed the change and stepped in to provide immediate support for him and his sister. Administrators arranged to pay for medical and food bills and found them places to live.

“My community definitely supported me and they took care of me and made sure I was healthy and fed and clothed,” he said during his TEDx talk. “But they also encouraged me to pursue my dreams … They pushed me to pursue my dream of going to a four-year college.”

PEACE OF MIND

I know for a fact wherever I am, I want to be making some noise about something everyone should know about.”

Jimmy Ramirez (C'15)

Ramirez bounced back and graduated as high school class valedictorian and got accepted to Georgetown.

He credits the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) for providing financial and personal support that have been integral to his undergraduate career.

“Knowing that I had a New South bed to sleep in allowed me to reflect on my experience,” he says. “Having the peace of mind about having a roof over your head is what helps young people deal with the part of society that perceives being homeless as shameful and get past it and help people like themselves.”

Ramirez has that peace of mind and hopes he can make a difference.

“I know for a fact wherever I am, I want to be making some noise about something everyone should know about,” he says. "Every year children in our country are going without food and shelter. They have no place to lay their head at night or have to constantly worry about where they will get their next meal. How do we expect to move on as a country if we can’t provide those basic needs?”