When her sister asked her to leave in January, Clarice Maloney packed her belongings and left the apartment with no idea where she would sleep that night. For the following week, she moved from couch to couch until she ran out of options.
After a lifetime of crisis — including stints in foster care and struggles to find a stable place to live — Maloney, 21, was facing the daunting reality that she was officially homeless.
That awful realization drove her to a program offered at her high school in Roxbury that finds safe houses for adult students like Maloney who are determined to get their diploma but also must cope with homelessness.
“I’d been pushing so hard, and the only thing I really needed was housing,” said Maloney.
The privately funded program called YouthHarbors began three years ago to fill an urgent need in student homelessness and provide assistance to young adults struggling to make it on their own. Launched in Malden in 2009 and then in Everett the following year, the program was recently expanded to Roxbury and was scheduled to start in Somerville at the end of last month.
‘I’d been pushing so hard, and the only thing I really needed was housing.’
“When kids are struggling whether they are homeless or almost homeless, our job is to make sure they are housed so they can stay in school,’’ said Danielle Ferrier, who oversees the program.
More than 1,500 Boston public school students and about 70 Somerville students are classified as homeless, according to officials from both school districts.
“We do have a rising population of homelessness,’’ said Regina Bertholdo, who works with homeless students in Somerville public schools. “On the other hand, this is a population that is hard to identify.”
Too embarrassed to seek help or unsure of where to find it, students find shelter in cars, sleep in condemned buildings, or roam through the night visiting 24-hour cafes and convenience stores to get warm, school officials and advocates said.
YouthHarbors was established by an organization called Rediscovery at the Justice Resource Institute, which had been serving homeless young adults who had aged out of foster care. Advocates saw that the students who needed the most help had no support and had been struggling to make it on their own.
With Somerville and Roxbury on board, program officials now have 100 students in need of homes.
At Boston Day and Evening Academy, an alternative school for older students in Dudley Square, “we have 26 documented cases of homelessness’’ said its head, Beatriz Connie Zapater. The school has 270 students, including Maloney. “And that’s the traditional definition of homelessness, not just ‘Oh, I’m spending the night at a friend’s house.’ ”
YouthHarbors targets students ages 18 to 21, many mired in personal and family troubles that have kept them languishing in school. It places its case managers in school buildings to work directly with students.
When students seek help or are referred to them, case managers surf the Internet for listings in search of families with rooms to rent. They ensure that each placement is safe and families are screened before students sign a lease. YouthHarbors pays the $500 monthly rent.
“We are hoping that we can target a specific population of our students who we feel is acutely at risk’’ of remaining homeless, said John Oteri, headmaster at Somerville High School.
Maloney’s life’s journey has been rocky — a mother who was a drug addict, a father who fell on hard times and was himself homeless, a former boyfriend who was slain, family members who took her in, then asked her to leave.
At times, school had not been a priority.
But then a friend told her about Boston Day and Evening Academy, and Maloney, who had taken GED classes, called and was quickly signed up. Maloney, who works one day a week for the NAACP, wants to finish school and go to community college. Someday, she would like to become a lawyer.
After she was asked to leave her sister’s place, a YouthHarbors case manager found her a home in Hyde Park.
Maloney now lives with a woman from Cameroon who has two daughters in college. She shares a second-floor unit with a schoolmate and a young man who is also attending college. It feels like home, she said.
“It’s a good environment,’’ Maloney said.
She smiled proudly, and said, “I have my own keys.”