The pandemic, addiction, lack of affordable housing. These are some reasons the number of homeless students in schools across the country is at an all-time high.
In fact, 2 million children experienced homelessness. That’s doubled in the last decade. And the ripple effect of homelessness is real. Children who are homeless are more likely to get bad grades, drop out of school, and suffer health consequences.
But there is hope. One young lady is proof that you don’t have to become a statistic.
Fifteen-year-old Arielle Metzger, along with her little brother Austin, were once featured on 60 Minutes — homeless and living out of her dad’s truck. Fast forward 10 years.
“I was so proud of myself to be able to work that hard to be able to finally get a degree,” said Metzger, who now goes by Autumn Johnson.
Using her life experiences, guided by her faith, to help homeless and hurting teenagers.
“It was a lot to juggle and a lot to handle,” said Johnson.
For the first time, she’s coming out publicly with what happened to her.
“He would physically abuse my brother and sexually abuse me. It's hard to say being homeless was probably the easiest thing I've ever done,” said Johnson.
In a recent study of homeless teens, nearly 50 percent reported physical harm by a family member and 19 percent reported sexual abuse.
Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown is Autumn’s mentor.
“I think the beauty for me is seeing there have been so many different people that have come in and helped her,” said Shankar-Brown, who teaches Social Justice Education at Stetson University, and is an Executive Board Member for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Not long after being thrown into the national spotlight, Autumn was put into foster care and was finally adopted. She accepted a full ride to Stetson University. But as so much has changed, one thing remains the same.
“I plan to be a child defense lawyer. School was everything to me and it still is,” said Johnson.
She is speaking out now to let others see there is hope.
“The life right now that you're living is temporary. There is better. You can always move forward. Nothing stays the same,” said Johnson.
Autumn is now planning her wedding and has just accepted a position at an organization that helps girls survive and thrive after being sex trafficked. And in case you were wondering, Autumn’s brother is an undergrad at Stetson University.