I have a new friend. I’ll call him Will. I’d like him to tell you his story.
I grew up in rural Alabama. There was Mom, Dad, my sisters Lisa and Lakisha and me. Plus, our dog, Malvern. I’m not sure why we named him Malvern. Someone said that was the name of our mailman, and he always chased the postal truck. So, I guess he got named after our mail carrier. For a long time when I was younger, I thought his name was Malvern No. But then I caught on.
I caught on to a lot of things at an early age. My mom was a teacher’s assistant. She only had an associates degree so the school district would only allow her to “assist” in the classroom. She was sharp as a whip though. It wasn’t her fault that her parents could not afford full-blown college.
My dad worked at the local textile mill. He started sweeping floors at age 14 and worked his way up to the dye bleaching machines before they moved him to shipping. He bragged that he was the best dye bleacher on the floor, but they told him that dye bleaching was better suited for the women folk and his brawn was needed in shipping.
One day, a few of the drivers didn’t show up. They asked Dad to make a run to Birmingham. He never made it back. An 18-wheeler hit him head-on.
That was rough, but Mom, Lisa, Lakisha and me pieced things together the best we could. We all got part time jobs to help pay the bills. We tried best we could to put some money away for college. Mom was determined for us to go even though she knew we would probably have to rely on loans, financial aid and such.
I was the youngest, so Lisa and Lakisha got first crack. They made the most of it but money ran out for both somewhere around the second and third year. They picked up a retail job or two in Birmingham and eventually moved into a one-bedroom apartment together, pinching pennies, dimes and quarters.
I wanted to stay near home in order to help Mom. I told her that I thought the local community college would work out great. I could get a two-year degree and still be around enough to help her.
She wouldn’t hear of it.
“Will,” she said to me, “you are the best student of my beloved three, and I don’t want to see you get stuck like I have with just a two-year degree. We’ll find a way to get you through.”
She was right. I did have very good grades. I applied to several state school’s but my guidance counselor thought I should aim big – Georgia Tech.
But he told my mom and me that there would be quite a bit of financial aid. And there was. But not quite enough.
At home, jobs were drying up which meant fewer families in the county. That meant fewer students. That meant less of a need for teachers and teacher’s assistants. My mom lost her job. Then our house burned and we had to move in with my cousin’s step-sister. We didn’t know her and her boyfriend very well. But they were nice to take us in.
I told mom I wasn’t going to leave her, but when the acceptance letter came for Georgia Tech, she told me I could under no circumstances not go. She called it God’s will and that I couldn’t go against God’s will. How was I to argue with that?
Money was still tight, but I figured I could make it work if I took just enough hours to maintain my financial aid package but found cheaper housing and work a few odd jobs.
It seemed like a good plan at first, but I was having a hard time making enough money for the rent split with the five other guys in the rented house. I found a very small studio in a not-so-great part of town, but I couldn’t afford all the utility and internet hookups.
So, I decided to live out of my car for a while. It’s been 6 months now. Mom, doesn’t know I’m living in my car and few of my classmates or teachers have figured it out either. But I can’t keep going on like this. I need to find a place that’s safe and secure. The stress is taking its toll on my grades. And I have to find a way to help mom.
Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe that a college kid could actually be homeless. But I am. It sucks.
Author's note: I recently participated in a homeless fundraising event for young people, several who were college students. This was developed from a combination of some of those students' stories.
Image Credits: The two images with men wearing masks/holding signs were taken by Covenant House Ministries; the photo of the college student is from Shutterstock and licensed by the author for use here.