Where the Heart Is

By Kathleen Vail

Matthew Cardinale never gave up. The vision of graduating from high school and going to college sustained him even when he had no idea where he would sleep at night. When he lived behind a Publix supermarket. When his time ran out at the homeless shelter and he slept in a field. It sustained him during predawn journeys to his Broward County, Fla., high school on three public buses.

"School became my stability," says Cardinale. "I was going to school and making progress toward graduation. It became part of my identity."

Homeless at age 14, Cardinale did more than just survive high school. He was an honor student who earned the rank of Eagle Scout and landed an internship at the Orlando Sentinel. Tulane University in New Orleans awarded him a full scholarship.

His odyssey from destitute teen to college graduate is remarkable, but Cardinale does not want his story used as an example of what homeless youth can do if they only try hard enough. He admits he often contemplated dropping out. School sometimes offered more roadblocks than help. "High school was not really designed for people in crisis," he says. "A bus ticket would have helped, and a more supportive principal."

One million children and youth are homeless in any given year, the Urban Institute estimates. Like Cardinale, some are runaways or throwaways -- teens abandoned by their parents. Others are children staying with their parents in emergency shelters or doubled up with relatives or family friends. They sleep in weekly rate apartments or motels, campgrounds, or cars. They live on the streets, in alleys, under bridges. 

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