How to be Homeless in College

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I was stranded at my friends apartment last week while NC was in the middle of a snow storm. This reminded me of last semester when I was staying there almost every week because I had no other place to go. I learned a lot about how to go without last semester. Becoming homeless is a process that makes you realize exactly what you do and do not need to live. It’s a painful process.

I started the semester in a small apartment attached to a house nearby campus. The rent wasn’t bad and I had just gotten a job as a barista at the local B&N cafe. After about a month, I moved out because my landlady didn’t want me to keep my cat in her house, and I wanted to live with my cat (don’t judge me).

At the beginning of October, I moved into a house with a student couple, their evil cat, smelly dog, and loud chicken. (Yes, I did say chicken.) I settled in and then…I lost my job. Apparently, my availability was not working for them, even though I told them I could work anytime I wasn’t in class. With no job to pay rent and a new landlord asking for a deposit, I found myself, at the end of the month, moving for the third time that semester…home.

My Mom lives in Raleigh, about an hour from campus, and I had a full schedule with seven classes. I was so scared and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had no choice but to keep going. For weeks, I woke up at 5:30am so I could drive the hour commute and be on time for my 8am class (and I’m not a morning person in the least). To save gas, I asked my friends if I could alternate sleeping on their couch, but I didn’t want to be a burden, so most of the time I slept in the library or took naps in my car.

I had a system. I would go home every Tuesday and Thursday night to get more clothes and food. I would shower in the gym locker room and do laundry on the weekends when I could stay home. I would work in the library and then drive home to sleep in my room with no bed. And I would student teach and try to finish my projects on time. Part of me knew this meant I wouldn’t be passing all my classes, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I thought I was strong enough to do it all.

Okay, so technically I wasn’t homeless, but I was constantly moving between my car, my friends’ apartments and public spaces like the library and gym. I felt homeless, and that anxiety really affected me and my ability to work. I learned how to get through the day by getting “free” coffee from faculty lounges and attending school events with free food. I ate a lot of pizza that semester.

Having no where to go makes one anxious and alone, and I very quickly fell apart. Every single one of my professors emailed me or “had the talk” with me about my low performance (some more than once). What could I say? “Sorry I didn’t finish the paper, Professor, I was busy trying to find somewhere to sleep last night.” I felt tired all the time and it wasn’t from the mountains of work I stayed up doing. I knew I needed to do something about my living situation and fast.

That’s when I remembered that I had been adopted recently. My church has a program that allows families in the church to “adopt” college students so they can get a home-cooked meal, and have a place to stay if they can’t go home for breaks. I emailed my “family” and asked if they knew of anyone that had an extra room to be rented out until May. I received a quick response offering a room in their own house for the year. It felt weird accepting help from people who were essentially strangers, but I wasn’t in a position to say no, and a 30 minute commute is better than an hour commute, so I said yes. I’ve been living here ever since. I won’t say it wasn’t awkward, really awkward, at first, but God has put me in a good home and I’m so grateful that He has provided a place for me to live during my senior year. I hope I can do the same for someone else one day.

What my adopted family did by taking me in reminds me of this passage in Matthew 25.35-40 (NIV)

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I was a stranger and they invited me in, and that’s pretty awesome.

Beck

A Stranger Buys Me Tires

Coming in contact with the power and love of God is overwhelming. Having knowledge of His love is one thing, but seeing it in action is a humbling and transformative experience.

I woke up early this morning to drive my sister to work because her car wasn’t starting. On my way back, my front left tire blew violently on the highway just as my gas light came on. I freaked out, put my hazards on, and quickly merged right to get off the road. I felt the adrenaline so fiercely it made my stomach ache. (Ironically enough, Ingrid Michelson’s “Be Ok” was on the radio as this happened.) The first thing I did was email my professor on my phone to tell her that I probably wouldn’t be in class today. Then I texted my sister and Mom to tell them what happened. I closed my eyes, sat in my car and thought about how much money a new tire would cost and how much I couldn’t afford it. I can’t even afford an old used tire. I was on hold with AAA when I saw a brown wagon-sedan pull up behind me. I felt relieved as I hung up the phone and rolled down my window.

He was an older man with a thin face and kind blue eyes. He asked if I had a spare tire that he could put on my car. I said yes and popped the trunk. While he changed my tire we asked each other’s names and a few other questions. His name was Kevin. I told him I was leaving for school today after visiting my sister over the weekend. He told me he was on his way to visit his mother along with a few others who lived in the area. He was driving beside me when my tire blew and saw me pull off the road. He got off the highway and turned around so that he could see if I needed help. I did need help, but he didn’t stop at just putting on the spare. He told me to get off at the next exit because he knew there was a tire shop nearby. I didn’t have my purse with me (or any money anyway) but he said not to worry about it. I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought I had heard him wrong because the cars passing by were so loud and we had to shout to talk. After finding a Tire Kingdom, he bought me two new tires, told me to have a blessed day and left.

Accepting help from a stranger leaves an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness and gratitude. I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do to get myself out of the situation, and because I knew there wasn’t any way I could ever pay him back for his kindness. I felt grateful that someone did stop and help. He didn’t have to go out of his way to help me at all, let alone buy me tires, but he did. All the while, I felt unworthy of his attention and that I didn’t deserve to be so completely taken care of by a stranger. He treated me as if I were part of his family.  I felt God’s love through this experience. I cannot save myself from sin and can never repay Him for His faithfulness and redeeming love. I am grateful He would notice and take care of me, insignificant in the grand scheme of things as I am. God didn’t have to save us; He wanted to because He wanted to be with us, because He loves us. This kind of love is not something you can walk away from, because it changes everything. This morning was an amazing experience to remind me of that.

Kevin Ford is the senior pastor at Belmont Foursquare Church in Belmont, NC and I look forward to visiting him on an upcoming Sunday. If you live in the Charlotte area, I suggest you visit him too.

Beck