I stayed at her house for two or three weeks. She never made me feel that I was a burden even though I was. Each day she said, “My son – angels are with you. You are very handsome, you have fancy luggage and no one did anything bad to you while you were homeless.”
Eventually I was introduced to a non-profit organization. They said that since I was under age they would help me for three or four months until I received social security. Not only did this organization help me get off the streets but the social worker also helped me get into a high school, which I needed to finish in order to get into Harvard.
A Palestinian man who also received services from the organization told me I should submit an asylum request. But I knew that if I did that my family back in Syria would be destroyed – they would be jailed or probably killed if one of their relatives defected to the United States. The social worker still had me meet with a lawyer.
“I don't want any news to get back to Syria.” I said.
“It doesn't work that way. The Syrian government will never know.”
The lawyer told me it is a law that the United States will never send someone back to a country where their life would be in danger. They didn’t care that I was technically living in Saudi Arabia, they were only concerned with the country of my citizenship. I had to write the story of my immigration and give it to my lawyer.
What amazed my lawyer is that the whole process from submitting my application for asylum to fingerprinting and receiving my alien number took only three and a half months…it usually takes over five years. The political asylum request was granted and one year later I got my green card. After that I submitted an application to social security.
The organization I was involved with was founded to help women who were abandoned by their husband or family, but they had decided to help me because I came as an underage individual. After four months the organization stopped allowing me to stay there. So I went back to the streets for a few days and then connected with a shelter in Northridge, but I had to leave Northridge because it wasn’t a good situation. I went through homeless shelters in Chatsworth and Granada Hills and ended up in a shelter in West Hollywood. The shelter in West Hollywood asked me to leave because I was getting social security income and that disqualified me from living there.
“Are you kidding me?” I said to my case manager. “Do you want me to go back out onto the streets?”
He said there was nothing he could do and asked me what I wanted to do.
“I have to think about it for a couple of hours.” I said. “I can't make the decision on the spot. Please just leave me alone.”
I was overwhelmed – I had been homeless off and on for two years...since I was 17.
After a few hours I went back to his office.
“I'm moving to New York.”
I had decided to move to New York City because I was sure there were better opportunities there.
“What? Why New York?”
“It's none of your business.” I said angrily. “Why do you care anyways?”
“Why do you talk to me like this?”
I was overwhelmed with emotion and very hurt and scared. “I understand that you are not the one who put those rules in place…but still.”
I asked him to give me my documents to sign out because I had already booked my flight.
I got a cheap flight for $196. There were four layovers: Los Angeles to Arizona, Arizona to Texas, Texas to Philadelphia, and finally Philadelphia to Connecticut. When I got to Connecticut I took a train to Grand Central.
So there I was standing in the middle of Grand Central. When I landed in Los Angeles I didn’t know anyone and again I was in a big city not knowing a single soul…