Multiple families live under one roof
Teen tries to overcome past trouble after immediate family loses house
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 16:07
When 17-year-old Gabriel Gomez’s family lost their house to foreclosure in the winter of 2010, he was unaware of the struggles he would face. But Gomez was fortunate. He and his family were saved from being homeless by his grandmother.
Three generations — nine family members — living in a three-bedroom house near Southwest Military Drive during the winter with only two space heaters only seemed to pile on the stress for Gabriel.
“The foreclosure had a pretty big impact to my lifestyle and thought process,” Gabriel said. “Everyday life was a new thing, something to adjust to.”
Gabriel’s father, a construction worker, struggling to find jobs, wasn’t making enough money to provide for his family of six. Their financial problems worsened as months passed. Over time, they lost their home and Gabriel’s parents whisked him and his siblings off to live with his grandmother until they could find a way to get back on their feet.
He didn’t have his own room and was constantly moving around to accommodate for the lack of space. Sharing a cramped space with his grandmother, mother, father, older brother, younger brother, two younger sisters and an aunt, privacy was nonexistent. The walls were paper thin, the space crowded with family members, including his older sister and her two kids who came by everyday, and as the months passed, he slowly spiraled downward.
“I just broke down,” Gabriel said. “I felt trapped.”
He became depressed and developed insomnia. He experimented with drugs like marijuana and speed because friends said it would help him focus, but it only made him feel bad about resorting to using drugs to ease his stress.
“There were people everywhere and nowhere to go,” Gabriel said. “I just wanted to get so hammered to where I would lose my stress for a night.”
Not only had his health and home life suffered after he moved in with his grandmother, but his social life and education took a hit as well.
Gabriel said he had no interest in his friends and couldn’t pay attention because he always had something on his mind. When they questioned his behavior, he plastered on a smile and added a fake laugh.
“I would reassure them by saying, ‘no really, that’s awesome’ or ‘that’s funny,’ ” he said. “I would make them feel like I was interested.”
Unable to focus, he fell behind in his classes during his first semester at Harlandale High School and his grades dropped. Gabriel then transferred to private charter school San Antonio Can High School to try to catch up. He spent another year at San Antonio Can before going back to Harlandale. He was then sent to Frank Tejeda Academy because he was unable to turn in work and pass classes.
After being caught with marijuana at school, he was sent to Harlandale Academy of Continuing Education, another alternative school in the Harlandale School District, from October 2011 to January 2012. It was there that the drug counselor they assigned Gabriel helped him to realize he didn’t need to “solve his problems with another problem.”
In late January, Gabriel was back at Tejeda with 30 hours of community service to complete. One day, his teacher asked him to see a school counselor, who referred Gabriel to Victory Learning Center. There he entered a diploma program, and his older brother helped him pay for it.
The learning center, on Southwest Military Drive, offers students a nontraditional way to gain a high school diploma. The school helps students who have either dropped out of a traditional high school or completed high school, but didn’t pass the TAKS test.
The center is classified as a private school that allows students to work at their own pace with flexible hours and accessibility. The students have a choice of tutors and can work from home to complete a diploma.
Victory Learning Center administrator Aurora Gutierrez said some students earn a diploma for work purposes, others go into vocational or trade programs, and about 40 percent of students go on to community colleges around San Antonio.
Although the impact of losing his house was stressful and led him down a path he never imagined, Gabriel aspires to the 40 percent who enroll in community college. He hopes to attend San Antonio College to study psychology. He said he wants to move beyond his circumstances.
“I want to put that all behind me,” Gabriel said.
He’s looking for a job with the help of his longtime girlfriend, Melissa Vasquez, who also encouraged him to share his story with others in spite of the discomfort and pain it caused to talk about it.
“I was kind of iffy because it hurt,” Gabriel said. “But then I started thinking: There are other kids out there like me, so if they see there is someone like (them), that would give them hope.”