homeless students FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 6 Dec 1997 10:16:30 -0800 (PST)


FWD (undated) from <http://thecity.sfsu.edu/~stewartd/student.html>

THE VARIETIES OF STUDENT HOMELESSNESS
--by David T. Stewart


"I arrive at People's Park around 7:15 a.m.," writes Dionne Jimenez, a
student in Social Welfare 98/197 (Homelessness: Issues and Action). "There
are more than fifty people waiting for their breakfast. I stand by the
stage and engage in conversation with a man named Tom. He asks me `How is
the food here?'" Dionne is playing the "role" of a homeless person in her
first "Stuctured Field Experience." Dionne writes: "He asks me, `How long
have you been on the streets?' I tell him that I just ran away. He's a
runaway too, from Northern California, and came to San Francisco to find a
job. `When I didn't find one, I came to Berkeley.' He has a very abusive
family and had to get away. He is eighteen and graduated from high school
in June. He says: `I was supposed to go to U. C. Davis, but I couldn't
afford it on my own. I was going to live at
home and commute, but it didn't work out.' He tells me how he attends some
of the lectures here at Cal. `You should some time. All you need to do is
look half decent and bring a notepad with you.' `How do you keep so clean
and groomed?' He
told me that sometimes he uses the dorms to shower or he goes to a shelter.
`Where do you sleep?' He used to sleep in his car, but he sold it and now
basically wanders around the city. He stills has a little bit of money and
performs odd jobs....

"When I came back to my dorm room, I began to cry because I realized how
fortunate I am, and I realized the cruelty of this world. I felt like going
back and finding Tom. I knew that I couldn't help him, but I so desperately
wanted to. I wanted to help all the people in the Park that day. I wanted
to find them jobs and shelter. I know that I cannot change the world in a
day, but I will try to make a difference."

Dionne went with friends to People's Park to eat the Dorothy Day House
breakfast. Her class assignment: eat a meal prepared for homeless people as
a "consumer," talk to someone, and write up her impressions. But this did
not turn out as an "academic" exercise. Suddenly, the reality of someone
her age, a "wannabe" student, homeless and hopeless, crashes through all
the stereotypes of Southside homeless people. The mask of anonymity is torn
from "the homeless" and she is left with one face, one voice, too human,
too real.

Indeed, Dionne has achieved the first objective of the class: to
de-mythologize homelessness. Meeting someone like herself, it makes more
sense that 14.5% of people asking for shelter in Alameda County have some
college, that a third are aged 18-29, and that 7% are Hispanic. Indeed, a
strange thought occurs. Could there actually be homeless (registered)
students? The Bay Area Homelessness Project, a consortium of colleges in
the Bay Area, reports more than 200 homeless students at City College of
San Francisco. Students at Sonoma State vote to increase their student fees
to assist homeless and at-risk students
to find transitional and permanent housing. Media reports speak of students
living in their cars in campus parking lots at Oregon State. But what of
Cal?

As instructor, I tell Dionne and the class anecdotes. A new student to Cal,
because of a delay in his financial aid, lives in his car for three weeks.
A woman in a student group that I advise one semester, I meet the next
semester eating at People's Park.  Students in the class tell me of their
past. "I was homeless in Ventura for four years," says one woman.
"Homelessness was
part of my past before I came to Cal," say two more. "When the Searle rent
increase went into effect my rent was raised so high I lost my apartment.
Luckily some friends let me sleep on their couch for the rest of the
semester." Someone says, "I don't consider that homeless!" "Yes, she's
at-risk. She fits the broadest definition. It's part of the slide down.
She's just lucky to have friends." Then their instructor tells them, "I too
was once homeless. And even now, I live in a temporary situation, on a boat
that a friend loans me. I am like one of the campground homeless The
Express featured a few weeks ago."

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