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My (Second Home) Journey

My name is Savina Zuniga, and I am Paiute, Cherokee and Shoshone. I am 23 years old, and I experienced homelessness when I was 16.

In 2016, I found myself in a position where I considered dropping out of high school to support my family and myself and to have a place to live. Before I could do that, though, my counselor at Beaverton High School found me crying in the hallway and pulled me to her office. I told her of the adversities I was facing. She connected me with Jenny Pratt Hale at EMO’s Second Home program and Lisa Mentasana with the Beaverton School District. With their help, I got new clothing, food, gift cards and a connection to a potential host home provider.

Later that week, I decided to move in with the home provider, Michele Mott, where I stayed for a year and a half. I graduated high school a year early in 2017.

For years, I have volunteered to share my story for Second Home. And in 2019, I started contracting with EMO to advocate for bills with Britt Conroy, EMO’s Director of Public Policy, which would benefit unaccompanied houseless youth.

During the 2022 Oregon Legislative Session, the bill that we advocated for was HB4013, which came from my original idea and I co-authored. The bill expands eligibility for existing foster care youth benefits—such as tuition and fee waivers and transitional living programs—to unaccompanied houseless youth and youth who have experienced homelessness.

Savina bill signing2

Since then, I’ve worked with the Oregon Department of Human Services to implement this new law.

I am currently contracted with EMO to help youth and service providers learn about and access this resource for eligible students. I am also utilizing the college tuition and fee waiver portion myself. I’ve been a part of every process of this effort: hatching the idea, advocating, implementation and utilization.

My goal is to continue my efforts to improve the lives of houseless youth and struggling families in Oregon, hopefully on an even larger scale. I will earn a degree in a major that will help me move up in the field and be able to play a larger part of this effort.

Although I have lived through many struggles in addition to housing insecurity, I am aware that it could have been a lot worse. I also know that I am in a unique position with a valuable network. It is my privilege to do the work on this scale. This is why I am passionate about what I have accomplished, and what I will accomplish in the future.

I know many of us who work at EMO have faced adverse life challenges—and I thank you all for being a part of the change we wish to see in the world. Thank you for letting me share my story and for being present.

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