OLYMPIC BLVD — Chianti Morgan believes that she is one of the lucky kids, blessed with loving siblings, supportive friends and good health.
It’s hard to believe that the ever-so-positive 18-year-old is experiencing her senior year at Santa Monica High School without the presence of her father or a stable home, kicked out of her house last month and forced to spend nights on the streets.
Yet, the bubbling high school student, who aspires to become a social worker someday, remains optimistic through it all.
The reason — there are millions of people in the world with bigger problems.
“They are dealing with real pain,” Morgan said during a recent interview at the Police Activities League. “I’m just sitting here whining about my iPod and these people don’t even have a home to go to tonight.”
For just a few nights in January, the local homeless population was joined by another.
Morgan, the eldest of four children, spoke without hesitance of a man she called an emotionally abusive and neglectful father and the final confrontation that blew up between the two family members after he allegedly refused medical attention for her sick sister.
The father would often force his children to do chores into the late hours at night, Morgan said.
“I stood up for my sister because I was tired of it,” Morgan, whose mother passed away nearly two years ago, said. “In a lot of ways I know he loves us but I do know what love isn’t and I stood up for my brothers and sisters and that was it.
“He kicked me out.”
With nowhere else to go, Morgan spent the first night at a neighbor’s house, but would be asked to leave the following morning. She spent the next week going back and forth between sleeping on the streets, staying over with friends and at least one night in a motel, thanks to a voucher she received through PAL.
She did a lot of thinking and reflecting during those days on the streets.
“During the whole time I was being thankful that I was healthy and I knew people were there for me,” she said.
Karen Humphrey, the program supervisor at PAL where Morgan and her siblings had been a part of since 2007, was surprised when she learned about the situation.
“I asked how she was doing and she said she hadn’t showered in the last three days and got kicked out,” Humphrey said.
After helping Morgan retrieve clothes from her father’s home in Los Angeles, Humphrey called more than 30 places asking to see if there was a spare bed available. Unsuccessful and worried at the thought of the young woman staying another night on the streets, Humphrey managed to secure Morgan a voucher for a one night stay in a motel.
Just a few days later, Morgan was admitted for housing at the Covenant House after putting her name on the waiting list.
But there was still the issue of her siblings remaining in the custody of their father.
She contacted a counselor at Samohi and explained the situation, which led to a counseling session with the father and children. When that didn’t work, the Department of Children and Family Services was notified.
All three siblings have since been placed in foster care, the second time that authorities have taken the children from their father’s custody.
Morgan, who learned over the summer that she wasn’t her father’s biological child, said she was placed in foster care about seven years ago when both parents were abusing drugs. Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder.
“I feel more relief because my siblings are OK,” she said. “They are able to go to school and focus on school and not have to wake up at 2 a.m. to make (my father) some more food.”
She sees two of her siblings nearly everyday at Samohi where they are also students. Morgan said she has not seen her youngest brother, who attends a different school, since he was placed in foster care.
Today Morgan gets up at 5:30 a.m. to beat everyone else to the showers. She then boards the bus for a more than hour-long bus ride to Santa Monica, enjoying her favorite activity — writing.
After school, she either runs the Samohi Soul Steppers club, which she founded this year, volunteers at OPCC where her family received services for years, or does her homework at PAL. By 8 p.m., she’s back at the Covenant House.
Founded in 1988, the Covenant House offers several different programs to youth, many of whom have been aged out of the foster care system. Their primary services are the overnight shelter and transitional living programs.
The center also operates a medical clinic and employment training office where clients learn everything from interviewing skills to tips on creating a resume.
“The end goal for them all is to be self sufficient and independent,” said Roger Workman, the associate executive director for development and communications.
Following high school, Morgan said she is considering either taking courses at Santa Monica College or Los Angeles Trade Technical College, hoping to later transfer to the University of Southern California and become a social worker.
Her dream is to help children who come from abusive backgrounds, using her life as an example that everything can be OK.
“I am definitely going to be able to relate to kids,” she said. “I can say that I was in foster care, I was neglected … I was the girl who was homeless at the age of 18 because I was done wrong.
“I am prepared for anything.”