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Once homeless, this teen now has his own apartment with help from Brighton Center

'He just didn't give up'
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 20:15:38-05

CINCINNATI — Things are looking up for Justice Pernell.

When WCPO 9 met him seven months ago, he was a teenager on the brink of homelessness, although he didn’t exactly see himself that way.

Pernell was living with his best friend’s family after having slept in his car for a while and said in May that he considered himself “one of the lucky ones.” Still, after years of living in foster care and shuffling from place to place, he couldn’t help but feel like “anything could happen.”

RELATED: N.Ky. homeless youth search for help, hope during pandemic

But now Pernell has his own apartment, a budding relationship with his biological father and a new-found sense of accomplishment.

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Justice Pernell moved into his West Price Hill apartment on Nov. 15, 2020.

“It makes me feel more mature, and especially because I’m only 19,” he said. “I get down on myself or being hard on myself about certain things. But then I look, and I’m doing pretty OK. So I try to stay positive.”

As far as Dawn Carson is concerned, Pernell is doing better than OK.

“He’s just such a symbol for how resilient young people are,” said Carson, a street outreach supervisor at Brighton Center. The Northern Kentucky nonprofit has been helping Pernell for months.

“He just didn’t give up. He just kept going, you know? Kept two jobs and just when obstacles would come up, he just kept going,” she said. “We’re just so happy for him.”

Pernell said his fortunes started to change soon after he told WCPO 9 his story.

First, the family he was living with assured him that he was welcome.

“They definitely started making me feel like I was part of the family,” he said. “They threw me a birthday party and graduation party, along with their son. They told me, ‘You’re not leaving. If you need somewhere to go, we’re always going to be here.’”

Pernell’s relationship with his biological father grew stronger, too, he said. And when his dad heard that an apartment would soon be vacant in his West Price Hill building, he put in a good word for Pernell with his landlord. After talking with Pernell, the landlord said the apartment was his if he wanted it.

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Justice Pernell

Now Pernell lives in the apartment just above his father’s, and the two are spending more time together than ever.

Brighton Center helped make that happen.

The organization used CARES Act funding to pay Pernell’s deposit and first month’s rent.

And Carson said a couple who learned of Pernell’s story through WCPO 9 donated money to help him. Brighton Center gave that money to Pernell to pay for the gas he needs to get back and forth from his new apartment to his job as a line cook in Northern Kentucky.

The change hasn’t been easy, Pernell said. He just moved into his new place Nov. 15, and he isn’t used to living alone yet. But, he said, “It’s actually better than I thought it would be.

“I think a big thing about that is just because my biological dad lives right below me now, and just because me and him are starting a new relationship,” Pernell said. “It’s still hard, and I still gotta work for my money. But he’s definitely made me feel more comfortable. Because he lets me know that he’s, like, gonna help me, and I’m not gonna fail.”

It won’t be easy for Pernell to support himself as a 19-year-old, but he definitely is one of the lucky ones now, Carson said.

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Dawn Carson

Brighton Center’s packed Homeward Bound Shelter in Covington serves youth between the ages of 11 and 17 who are homeless, abused or neglected. The nonprofit’s street outreach program finds young people between the ages of 16 and 22 who are living outdoors and gives them food and basic hygiene supplies while also working to connect them with other resources.

“We have almost doubled our numbers of youth reaching out, needing help, just with everything that’s going on,” Carson said. “Families are being stretched thin, tempers are rising. Now it’s the holidays.”

Brighton Center has been fortunate to find landlords willing to rent to the homeless youth that the organization serves, she said, even though the youth don’t have credit scores and often can’t meet income requirements.

But staff members are always looking for more.

“There’s just so much need and just not enough places for people to go,” she said.

Carson said she hopes if more people see Pernell’s story, maybe they will take an interest in helping the region’s young people who are moving from one friend’s couch to another or are sleeping in cars or under bridges.

“They’re good kids, you know, they just fall on tough times like everybody else,” Carson said. “But they can bounce back. And they can bounce back much quicker when they have the support of the community behind them.”

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Dawn Carson of Brighton Center talks with Justice Pernell outside his West Price Hill apartment on Dec. 9, 2020.

More information about the help that Brighton Center offers, and how you can support the organization’s work, is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.