Homeless to Homage
What does homelessness look like? Is it the man begging for money on the side of the road? Is it the impoverished family living in a homeless shelter? Or is it the boy who aced his biology test right next to you?
Joe Stazzone, senior, is homeless.
Stazzone attended MHS his freshman and sophomore years; however, during the summer of 2018, Stazzone moved to Indianapolis with his parents, two older brothers and little sister.
Stazzone’s parents are veteran doctors in their field. With his father being a surgeon and mother a radiologist, Stazzone said, often times, his parents would not be around to take care of him.
“My parents were going crazy about what was going to happen to me after high school. It made things stressful,” Stazzone said.
In Indianapolis, Stazzone attended Carmel High School, where he struggled to find his niche.
“My new school had 5,000 students, so it was very crowded,” Stazzone said. “The classes were a lot easier, but it was harder to find my place.”
Stazzone said living in Indianapolis was one of the hardest times in his life.
When Stazzone finished his junior year at Carmel High School, he packed up whatever belongings he had and drove himself back to his hometown, St. Louis.
In St. Louis, Stazzone had few belongings. He recalls not having clothes or a phone. These obstacles made it hard to focus on being a teen.
Days later, Stazzone legally classified as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This means, Stazzone did not have a fixed and adequate residence to live under; therefore, the federal law provides stability and support to Stazzone by guaranteeing the right to education, despite being homeless. Stazzone is 1 of 13 students at MHS protected under McKinney-Vento.
Stazzone receives aid from the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), an organization specializing in homeless young adults.
For youth separated from their parents or guardians during a difficult situation, the NCHE provides a stable and secure environment, offering structure and support to help them overcome the hardships they have experienced and regain their academic, social and emotional footing.
“The program is really nice,” Stazzone said. “You don’t have to pay for any college applications, and I get free lunch.”
Social Worker Brenda Casey is the homeless coordinator at MHS. Casey is responsible for helping students apply for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Casey said her job is to advocate for students and make sure students have access to education. Casey makes sure students have transportation to and from school, clothes and food.
Casey also helps students get college counselling and funding for standardized tests, such as the ACT.
“I do anything I can possibly do to get students access to education and to make sure that their basic needs are met,” Casey said.
Kenzie Simmons, senior, has known Stazzone since kindergarten. Her family volunteered to accommodate Stazzone, giving him a house and a bed to sleep in.
“He has been my best friend for years and was already kind of like family to us,” Simmons said.
She said her relationship with Stazzone has strengthened in the past year.
“He has made us smile, laugh and he brings humor,” she said. “Sometimes he pretends he is immortal and that is pretty funny.”
Julie Simmons, Kenzie’s mother, said Stazzone has grown up greatly as a mature individual. Stazzone has learned about money, household chores and how to live on his own.
“I understand people need time away, and I’m not going to deny him of an education and a home,” Julie said. “People need to understand what homelessness is, that is the first step to change.”
Stazzone said he hasn’t been in contact with his family in recent months, but is settling in with his new one perfectly.
This fall, after moving into his new home, Stazzone played varsity soccer at MHS.
Stazzone said he recalls showing up to his first varsity practices with only a trash bag to hold his shoes. He also wore Kenzie’s brother’s clothes to practice.
Chris Kenny, varsity soccer coach, said he met Stazzone freshman year.
“He has always been a tough, hard-nosed, competitive player,” Kenny said. “He seems to be very quiet overall but he is pretty focused on what’s important to him.”
Stazzone has been in the program every year he has attended MHS. After taking a year off, he was eager to get back into the sport.
“I know coming back after being away was hard for him, but I think what I’ll remember was his willingness to take on his own challenge and overcome obstacles like he did,” Kenny said.
Off the field Stazzone has accumulated a multitude of academic awards. Since freshman year, Stazzone has acquired the Future Medical Leaders Award of Excellence, National Society of High School Scholars Award and has been on the Honor Roll at Carmel High School and MHS.
“There are a lot of people at MHS that help provide for me, especially when I moved back, and the counselors have been great about helping me succeed,” Stazzone said.
Praise was also given from Casey.
“Stazzone is a rising star; he lights up a room, he’s got the personality, he is hardworking and intelligent,” Casey said. “He seems very goal oriented. I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to meet him. I hope when he is rich and famous he remembers the little people.”
Stazzone plans to attend college in New York City, where he will study biology. Specifically, he is interested in neurobiology, similar to his parents.
Stazzone said MHS and St. Louis will still always be a part of him.
“St. Louis is great, because people were nicer to me,” he said. “It brought me a home that I couldn’t find for the longest time. Truly, I will cherish that.”
Carter Van Buskirk, sophomore, is a staff reporter for the Messenger. Carter plays varsity soccer for MHS. He is a board member for the sophomore class...