From Homeless To College: how I went from the streets to the honor roll
My childhood was never stable. My parents had mental health issues and they were unable to prepare me for the real world. So I looked to the streets for role models. The streets were more than happy to provide them, but I paid a price for following that path. In the early 90’s, I started running away from home. I would be gone for 6 months at a time. This lifestyle became a habit and led me to a debilitating alcohol addiction. I ended up spending most of my adult life in and out of homelessness, just like I had done as a teen.
In 2013, I was still out there. I had long since kicked the alcohol habit, but it made no difference. I lived out of a car and had no direction and no prospects. I didn't know if this vagabond life was ever going to end for me.
Then my luck changed. In 2014, I came upon Collegetown, USA. I liked college towns. The police in college cities are pretty tolerant of the homeless. So I would not have to worry about being arrested for panhandling or for sleeping outside.
I started meeting a lot of college students and soon fell in love with the university atmosphere. That's when doors began to open for me. I told myself that if I were ever going to go to college, I needed to start down that path now. I needed to pursue this path while I was still young enough to walk around a big campus all day without getting leg cramps. This was it.
"I am changing my life right now. One way or another, I am going to get into college. And not just some tech school, but a real university with a real university atmosphere."
The problem was I had never finished high school. Hell, I barely started high school. I was a 36 year old man with an 8th grade education. So I enrolled in some GED courses at a community college. I got my high school diploma and was soon accepted to one of the best public universities in America. I have been at that school ever since, where I have made the honor roll every semester.
If you're homeless and wondering how you can get into school and change your own life, I've got good news. I am about to share with you the steps I took to change my life. If you follow these steps, you too can pull yourself up and out of the gutter. And you can soon be on the road to making something beautiful out of your life.
You have to look inside yourself and find your motivation. We all have something inside of us that can inspire change in our lives. You just have to figure out what that is for you and tap into it. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that lost youth played a role in motivating me. I had never been in college before and I loved the feeling that I got from being around all those students. I started to crave the college experience I never got when I was their age. The thought of having this experience is what motivated me to do what I had to do to get there.
At this point, some of you are questioning me. You may say, “ This dude was just having a midlife crisis. The only reason he wanted to get into college was so that he could feel young again.”
It may very well be that the thought of feeling young again was my main reason for working my way into school from the streets. But so what! Anything that inspires you to improve your life is ultimately a good thing. Besides, a person's motivations tend to change as time goes on. I am three years into my college experience now. And I am well past the whole “I want to be young again” thing. As time went on and I got deeper into my studies, I slowly shifted my focus toward building a life and a career for myself. And that's where my focus is at now.
Back to the point. For those of you who may be in a bad situation, you just need to find your motivation. It could be anything. For example, let's say that you are a younger guy and you just want to party and meet tons of people. And you see college as your way of doing that. Well, great! If that's what motivates you take the first step toward building a better life, then I am all for it. Of course, that shouldn't be your ending motivation. But it's fine for now. Use that to make yourself work hard and to do what needs to be done.
GET A SMARTPHONE
Nothing seems to make the general public angrier than when they see a homeless man with a smartphone. They think to themselves, “ Hey that dude was panhandling earlier and I gave him $5. He shouldn't have that phone. He's not really homeless.”
Well Mr. Judgemental, let me clue you in on something. Smartphones ceased to be a luxury item a long time ago. Almost everyone has a smartphone these days. And not only does everyone need them, but the homeless need them more than most. There aren't many phone books available anymore. There are even fewer maps around. The homeless need a phone with internet so that they can access any number of basic local services and figure out how to get to the buildings where those services are located.
My smartphone was a life saver. I can honestly say that I would not have been able to get into college without it. You see, my math skills were very weak in 2014. My english, writing, science, and social studies skills were up to par. But not so with math. I had never taken a day of geometry in my life, and I had only taken one algebra class in 7th grade. So I made use of my smartphone. I went to various websites and proceeded to teach myself college level geometry and algebra. I studied those subjects very hard for the next 6 weeks. It was not easy! Learning the math made for stressful nights. But I kept plugging away. And I soon gained the skills necessary to satisfy the admissions team at the university. I have my smartphone to thank for that.
So if you're trying to do what I did, I strongly suggest getting a smartphone. It will definetly come in handy for you as you pursue you education. These days, you're at a major disadvantage without one. So just do it. Save the money you get from panhandling and get yourself a smartphone with a data plan.
There has been a major public backlash against panhandling in recent years. And I understand why people frown on it. The media has released story after story about fake homeless people who make tons of cash each day, only to go back to their houses later in the evening. So people are skeptical. There are others still who will hate the homeless just for being homeless. All this negativity can lead one to feel like a criminal for asking for help. It's easy in today's social climate to believe that you are doing something immoral by begging.
But don't let people judge you. They don't know your story. And even if they did, a lot of them would simply make up some reason to look down on you. People like that have already decided how they feel about you and do not want to hear your side of the story. Forget them. There is nothing wrong with panhandling, so long as you have goals to get yourself out of that situation. If you have to beg to get a smartphone or to put food on your plate, so be it. Just don't develop a mentality to where panhandling becomes your career. It should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. And please remember that nobody owes you anything. People do work for their money and you need to respect that when someone hands you a dollar.
STAND UP FOR YOURSELF
This is more of a side note than one of the steps, but I feel it needs to be said. Stand up for yourself when someone confronts you. The streets are no place to be a coward. Allowing people to press you will only put you in serious danger. So when someone steps to you, you must be ready to fight.
Now there are a lot people who will yell things out of their cars at you. It's fine to ignore those who would shout insults at you as they are driving by. Let that go as long as they move on afterward. But don't let it go much further than that. If someone gives you any reason to believe that they may have bad intentions, you must stand up. Look them in the eye. Cuss. Do whatever you have to do to let them know that you are ready to throw down. And if they don't back off, you must fight.
Some may think that I am promoting violence here, but I am not. There are a lot of people out there who hate the homeless and see them as an easy target for assault. If they think you're afraid of them or have any reason to believe you won't fight, you are in danger. So stand up. Be a man and carry yourself like a man. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches. And you may just save your own life.
ENJOY YOUR ACCCOMPLISHMENTS
So you've just earned your high school diploma. All that hard work has paid off and now you're on your way to college. It's time to step back and smell the roses my friend. In my first week at university, I went to the main part of campus every day. I people-watched for hours. That was my way of soaking in the atmosphere. I just kept thinking,” I can't believe I am here. I friggin made it.”
I had a visible smile on my face for much of that week. I got some weird looks for that, but I was enjoying the fruits of my labor. And nothing was going to stop me from soaking it all in. You must do the same. When you get past a major hurdle on your way to an improved life, you should take about a week to enjoy the moment and to celebrate where you are. Relax and have as much fun as you can during that time. Don't worry about all the work that's about to come your way. That's next week's problem. For now, you're chillin!
You are in a unique position. You are not just some regular guy whose parents are paying their way through school. You worked your way up from the gutter. You came from the streets and now you're at university. And many of your professors will respect you in a big way for that.
I have been able to get away with stuff that no other student could. Nearly every semester, some professor lets me violate one of their clearly stated policies. My backstory and the reputation I gained from it is a major reason for that. I have turned in late papers and started certain classes as much as 4 weeks late. And I never write my emails in a professional manner. Yet my professors have been willing to work with me. You see, they know I care about the class. They know that I'll put 110% into every assignment I do. And when a professor knows where you came from and sees that you are deeply engaged in his or her class, they are willing to do favors for you that they otherwise wouldn't. So show initiative. Strive to get an A on every assignment. Your professors will work with you and it will show on your GPA.
College is the hardest job I ever had. I mean that. It's fun, but it's time consuming like no other. After 8 hours of classes, your day has only just begun. There's usually 3-4 hours of studying to follow once you get home. When you do this grind day after day and month after month, it can be tempting to quit. Or at least to slack.
But you've got to keep pushing. There is a reward at the end of this tunnel. And it's a reward that's going to go a long way in helping you build a quality life and in helping you to provide for your family. That reward is your degree, and it's more valuable than gold. You really can't put a price on it because that degree will open up a lot of doors for you that would have been locked before. So when you're having a bad week and you're sick of the grind, just remember why you're doing this. Remember the end-game. And believe that you are valuable enough to earn and to deserve that degree.
I hope that this article gets a million shares. I hope it inspires those of you who may be homeless. I hope my story motivates you to make a change. You can do this, my friends. You got this! And the only thing that can stop you from building a better life is you.
I have 2 more years of college to do myself. I am destined to be a super senior. But I'm fine with that. Because the pot of gold that's waiting for me at the end of this rainbow is worth the long hike. In the meantime, I'll keep grinding and keep enjoying the company of all the wonderful people I have met on this road.
I have kept the name of my town and college a secret. This is because I am an aspiring ghostwriter. And it's hard to be a ghostwriter if people know who you really are.
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© 2018 Mark Faith