April DeLira wasn't yet a teenager when she became homeless in Anchorage, Alaska. She was just starting high school when she found out she was pregnant.
Raised with men she said physically and sexually abused her, April found life on the street "safer than being at home." She spent nights in abandoned buildings, crashing parties, or sometimes staying with strangers, with whom she traded cooking and cleaning services for "a spot on the floor in the corner."
Today, though, her life is much different: April is a resident physician in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis. She got married four years ago and now has two children, a 3-year-old daughter and her 20-year-old son, Casey.
"It was terrifying when I found out I was pregnant," April, now 35, said of her first pregnancy in 1993. "I found out the day I was going to start ninth grade. I was at the bus stop, getting ready to take the People Mover to East High School, not knowing the implications."
April said it wasn't long before she felt pressured to withdraw from high school. At the age of 15, and with a newborn in tow, she proceeded to live a transient lifestyle. She had been homeless, off and on, since she was just 11 years old.
"I didn't really see myself as homeless. I don't think I knew what homeless was; I wasn't sleeping on the street," said April. "I considered having a place to sleep at night not homeless — even if I was staying at an abandoned house. I didn't have a lot of experience. I had a lack of knowledge about what was normal."
But through all of her varied and less-than-ideal living situations, she also found a "home" at Covenant House, the teen homeless shelter in downtown Anchorage. It was there she learned to play ping-pong and once ate a Thanksgiving meal with a Star Trek fan club.
She'd first stayed at Covenant House when she was 12, using her sister's name because she had to be at least 13 to stay at the facility. She would look out the window of the shelter and watch people as they strolled by.
"The Thanksgiving and Christmas season, in particular, was an amazing time to be with them," April said. "The original Covenant House was across from the performing arts center and my regular room had a window facing it. Covenant House is where I met my first real best friend, Rose. We were both 'regulars' and spent night after night watching the families come and go, all dressed up."
Teen parents weren't allowed to stay at Covenant House [at that time], but she began working with the nonprofit's outreach program after spending four months in Nome and then returning to Anchorage. They helped enroll her in educational programs, gave her work and provided a safe place for her son while she worked toward a high school diploma.