I thought I would share some advice for those trying to get off the street or out of extreme poverty. 16 years later, I am not looking back, and these basic ideas have helped shape my new life. Feel free to pass them on:
1) Start where you're at. Yes, some people are in better shape than you, are healthier, richer, or seemingly happier, but comparison is your enemy right now. Just focus on the next step in front of you.
2) Use everything as a possible resource. Every piece of food you eat is energy that can be used to get you to the next appointment, for example. See everything as an opportunity to get ahead.
3) If you are really involved in the street community, consider dropping out of it for a while. The only way out of your situation is to look after yourself for now. If you want to help others, you have to get your feet on solid ground-- it's way more effective.
4) Be honest, come clean, and hold nothing back from those who want to help you. The truth can't hurt you if you are in control of it.
5) Be humble. If you are leaving the street and entering a new part of society, you have to show respect for that new culture. Yes, you have street smarts, but they won't help you with the bank teller or the university clerk.
6) Be patient with buracracy. NOBODY likes paperwork, and it is not a conspiracy against you, it is just a side-effect of a huge population. Roll with it, and breathe deeply when you fill out the application form for the 4th time :)
7) Expect some setbacks. You will get your stuff ripped off, get kicked out of apartments, get rejected by people, fall in love, get hurt, and lose your shirt many times. You can let this stuff bother you, but only for a little while... giving up won't make it go away-- life is full of struggle no matter which way you go.
8) Use your creativity. Street life teaches you how to improvise, which is a HUGE skill. You won't understand how important this skill is until you get a few notches up, and then people will be pounding down your door for fresh ideas. If you get stuck, be resourceful. You have it in you.
9) Keep in your heart the thing that inspires you. Maybe it's your musical talent, your kids, or your dog. Honour that part of you, and use the strength that it lends you.
10) Communicate communicate communicate. Tell people when you've had it. Tell them when you are happy about a new job. Find someone and tell them, even if it seems trivial. You are worth it.
11) Believe in people. That includes you.