Leaving behind a past of on-and-off homelessness and abusive parents, University of Nevada, Reno, freshman Gabrielle Foresta looks forward to a future in medical school and a career as a surgeon. A Las Vegas native, Foresta was forced to balance unstable housing, a drug-addicted mother and high school when she and her mother lost housing in November 2011.
Foresta’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she lived with her “caring mother” and sister for most of her childhood. Foresta said throughout her early childhood, her mother was a supportive parent, due to her consumption of post-pregnancy anti-depressants.
“After [my mother’s] pregnancy, she was on anti-depressants and she liked them, so she stayed on them for five years,” Foresta said. “Then when she [stopped taking] them, she became mean, but it did not escalate until she met [a] new boyfriend [who] was involved with a bunch of drug dealers in Las Vegas and she started doing heroin.”
Foresta’s mother was previously a meth addict before she starting using heroin. After she began using heroin, Foresta said her mother became both emotionally and physically abusive.
“She would say things like, ‘you can’t go and live with your dad or else I will commit suicide,’” Foresta said.
In addition to the mental abuse, Foresta’s mother also frequently hit her and her sister.
“One time she bit my nose. It is funny now, but at the time it obviously wasn’t,” Foresta said. “I still have a scar from it. [The wound] was to the point where her teeth were inside of my nose. She was just crazy like that.”
Foresta’s father was also an addict and had left after the divorce between himself and Foresta’s mother, 10 years before Foresta’s mother’s heroin abuse.
When Foresta began eighth grade, she and her mother were evicted from their home and began living in her mother’s boyfriend’s apartment.
“It was like a disgusting apartment, so I would rather stay in the car or at friends’ houses,” Foresta said. “There were, like, bedbugs and stuff; it was disgusting.”
During Christmastime in 2011, Foresta’s mother’s boyfriend found she was cheating on him and kicked the family out of his house. They began squatting in homes and empty buildings or sleeping in their car.
After six months, Foresta’s grandmother found out about her daughter and granddaughter’s homeless situation and offered to let them stay in her home. However, the stable home became short-lived when Foresta’s grandmother found Foresta’s mother stealing money and kicked the two of them out of her home.
The two found themselves homeless again for about two months.
During the family’s on again, off again housing situation, Foresta’s father was in a rehabilitation center and was living in a government home on disability funding and in rehab. At first, Foresta did not want to live with her father because of his past addiction and family abandonment, but she gave in and moved in with him because he had stable housing.
was in a rehabilitation center and was living in a government home on disability funding and in rehab. At first, Foresta did not want to live with her father because of his past addiction and family abandonment, but she gave in and moved in with him because he had stable housing.
While living with her father, Foresta began high school at a competitive magnet school in Las Vegas. She excelled in her classes throughout her freshman year of high school. During her second semester of her sophomore year, Foresta flunked all of her classes except mathematics. She said her teachers were really supportive but recommended she go to a less competitive school due to her housing situation.
Foresta then started school at Sierra Vista High School, taking all honors classes. She received straight A’s during her junior year of high school and the first semester of her senior year. During her last semester of high school, however, Foresta’s father lost their home. He had started using drugs again and was no longer eligible to live in their previous housing.
Foresta’s grades suffered due to the housing situation, but luckily her teachers gave less work and were more understanding during her second semester of senior year.
During the last half of school and the summer, Foresta was sleeping and showering at her friends’ houses.
“It is hard to do school when you’re homeless,” Foresta said. “I flunked out. I really like school, but it is just so hard to keep up with your school work, especially if you don’t have a ride to school.”
After graduating high school, Foresta was working over 40 hours a week and never thought she’d be able to attend the University of Nevada, Reno. Her father had no credit to take out loans for her and was in no state to assist her with school. However, Foresta filled out her Free Application for Federal Student Aid and received the highest amount of grants and scholarships an aspiring UNR student could receive.
Despite receiving grants and scholarships, Foresta still had owed a lot of money to pay off her schooling and had to find a way to pay for housing in Reno, so she decided to take out loans herself, as an independent student.
“I took out around $10,000 in loans because I didn’t know what else to do,” Foresta said.
With the money from the loans, Foresta lives in the dorms during the school year but still has to find housing during winter and summer breaks.
“I wouldn’t say I have overcome [homelessness],” Foresta said. “I am living in the dorms eight months out of the year and I have a home to stay in, but winter break I had to find somewhere to stay, summer break I am going to have to find somewhere to stay.”
In her early childhood, Foresta and her sister were both raised to be successful. They were both in Gifted and Talented Education Programs in school, however, Foresta said her sister fell into a trap.
“My sister fell into the whole idea that [she is] not going to try because [her] parents were terrible and [she has] an excuse,” Foresta said. “I never wanted to do that, I saw her do that and I just thought, ‘I never want to end up like that. I never wanted to end up not being a motivated person.’”
Despite her difficult time in school, Foresta said she grew very close with the faculty at both her magnet school and Sierra Vista High School. She said they were very caring people who genuinely wanted her to succeed.
Despite her student loan debt looming over her, Foresta said she is used to not having money. She knows medical school will be expensive, but also knows it is what she really wants to do.
Foresta plans to declare her major in molecular microbiology and immunology after she completes her freshman year. After completing her undergraduate education, she plans to attend medical school and achieve her dream of becoming a surgeon.