Donalda Brantley: My journey as an unstably housed student

Donalda Brantley was able to find support at school and in a new home.
By Donalda Brantley The Black Lens

Thousands of students struggle with homelessness and many more lack support from their family. To many people this is a surprise, but for many students and minors this is a reality.

In Hillyard, where I live, and the school I go to, many students and families struggle to afford their homes. Waking up and not knowing where your next meal is coming from is one thing, but not knowing where you are going to sleep or live is a whole other issue.

As a senior in high school, I thought my year was going to be full of excitement, new beginnings and opportunities, and although this is true, it also came with some other unexpected challenges. Growing up in Spokane’s Hillyard area, there are already economic stability and social inequalities negatively impacting my family and many others. Receiving food stamps and government aid was never a surprise in my household. As I grew up, arguments over money and life became less surprising as well.

Being the only daughter and youngest out of six children, I knew I was going to be treated differently than my brothers. As I became a teen, I realized the conditions in which my siblings and I were being treated were not normal. Bickering between my parents also became regular. I realized while visiting friends that they were treated differently and had a more family-like relationship within their own homes. I always thought “my family is just big, that’s why we fight all the time.” But as I matured, I found knowledge and courage.

Years of struggling with a toxic family, neglect and hatred had reached a point I could not handle anymore. There would be days I would have to come to school and hold back many tears, anger and frustration that had been passed on to me in the morning. Stress and sadness filled my mind daily, and I knew I needed to get out. Eventually I had enough, and I found the courage to leave my house and live in a different home.

Regardless of moving myself out of a toxic home, the toxicity, resentment and emotions stuck with me. The adjustment was difficult and different to anything I had experienced. Teachers and peers noticed my behavior had changed and I felt more tired. The natural struggle of school became a bigger issue because, just like many students, there is more in life going on than just school.

I was lucky enough to be welcomed into a home where I was not required to pay bills, but I still happily contributed with household chores, cooking and helping around the house. Fortunately, I also had the same teachers and peers who understood that what I was going through was difficult and abnormal. As I’ve been navigating this situation, I have had a lot of support from them. I was highly encouraged to continue with life.

I have many leadership roles, sports and other activities to keep me going. I have struggles and continue to hurt while I am still finishing out my senior year, working, playing sports, and paying for my basic needs moving forward.

Many students have gone through similar experiences and have had less support, more questions and fewer answers. These students can be your peers, friends, or children throughout your community. Despite who they are, many hide their story and challenges because they are afraid and don’t know where to find support. I am sharing my story to let people know that this is a reality for many students and that they are not alone.

This student story was collected by The ZONE. Contact director Jene Ray at or (509) 209-7227 for more information. Donalda Brantley is a senior at Rogers High School.