NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - Homelessness in New York City public schools is at a record high. Those students face isolation and unique anxieties.
"When you're going to high school...and you live in temporary housing or a shelter-your family don't have it-you kind of feel ashamed," said Sherqwenna Laws, 22, whose family lived in a Brooklyn shelter while she was in high school. "You don't want to tell your friends, you're scared they're going to spread rumors, you're kind of in a weird, awkward place in your life."
Ashley Kirkland, 23, also lived it.
"It's pretty difficult, you can't flat out tell your peers, even if you have a close friend, you're scared for their perception of you to change if you say, hey I don't go home to a regular house or four walls, windows, like you do," Kirkland said.
But Laws and Kirkland both managed to find a lifeline, when outreach workers at their shelter, introduced them to the group All Sisters Evolving Together, or ASET. A brother organization called Safe in My Brothers Arms, or SIMBA, serves male teens.
"When you go to ASET or SIMBA everyone is living in the shelter, everybody's in Brooklyn, and you're like whoa there's other kids in the world like me," Laws said.
Renado Taylor, a former member of SIMBA called the group a "brotherhood."
"It's like you don't have anything but then you meet a bunch of people who don't really have anything and then you guys can create something together," he said.
The two programs were started in 2007 by Department of Education employee Wayne Harris.
"He's a man who saw this problem in the community, and he made this program," said Khalil Muhamad, another SIMBA graduate.
An estimated two thousand students have graduated from the programs, and graduated high school, almost all going on to college. Among the support, service, and activities the groups take part in are campus tours.
"It made me see the benefits of outside of where I was living and where I could potentially go in life," said Muhamad.
On one school break, Harris took a group of kids down to North Carolina to build homes for those in need with Habitat for Humanity.
"The weirdest thing about it was a bunch of people from NYC who are temporarily displaced, they don't have homes, are going to get up, go down there to help build homes for other people," recounted Taylor, "It was like ok we're going to go help someone else who is even in a worse off situation, we have a roof over our head, they don't."
The programs are funded almost entirely by the DOE, but Harris says the overarching goal goes beyond getting the kids to finish high school.
"The single thing that's most important to me is that the group up to be good people, to be solid citizens, to be respectful, hardworking, and have those values," Harris said.