Homeless in College


“If I spend one more semester in this house the next time you see me it will be through prison bars.”

Those were the cryptic words I told my mother after my sophomore year came to a close – and I was serious.

How it all Began…

The freshman year of my bachelor’s degree started off as the adventure of a lifetime. Knowing nothing about Kingston, Jamaica I ended up moving into an inner-city neighborhood run by Rastafarian thugs. The house I stayed at was dark and dreary and the elderly people hosting me were the most miserable human beings I had ever met.

One morning, on my way to school, I had to pull a knife out on a thug who harassed me after I rejected his catcalling. That earned me the respect of the community, but in that moment, I knew it was time to move.

After a few weeks of looking, I found a flat in a community filled with other college students. My housemates were a great mix of guys and girls and we got along great. We kept to ourselves, paid the bills on time, had a great landlady, and respected each other’s privacy.

The She-Devil

Then, she came.

She was the housemate from hell – a sheltered country bumpkin who had likely never been on her own before. She looked weird, smelled weird, talked weird, and had a habit of referring to me as “you people” and “people like you” in a derisive tone.

One day, in annoyance I asked her to explain herself. “You light skinned people,” she expanded; as though by being born a lighter color than herself I had offended her somehow.

I held my tongue in that instance, but let it loose on her every other time. She drove me up a wall. If I left my room, she was waiting. If I stayed in my room, she came knocking. When I was away, I would come back to find that she had used my things.

When my boyfriend came by, she did everything to be seen. One day I told her if she wanted him, she had my full permission to try her luck. She would need it. When she looked at him, he ducked, went back to the room and shut the door.

“Why did you say that?” he asked me. “I don’t want her anywhere near me.”

Failed Resolution

“I can’t deal with her anymore,” I complained to my mother one night. “I have to move. If I spend one more semester in this house the next time you see me it will be through prison bars. I’m going to kill her.”

My mother tried to talk some sense into me, but at the first opportunity I packed my things and moved to a new building. I then hopped on a flight to Georgia to see her.

Finally, I told myself. The worst is behind me. Now, I can relax.

That relaxation came to an abrupt halt when my new landlady interrupted my summer vacation to let me know she had given up the house I had just rented. It was no longer available and I would need to find a new place to live when I returned home. I spent the next three months worrying about my living situation, and with good reason.

Walking into a Nightmare

When I hopped off that flight back to Jamaica, I walked right into a nightmare. I was in effect, homeless.

The new “landlady” had moved my things to her house and in the process quite a bit of my belongings had either been damaged or gone missing. To add to this, she lived in the middle of nowhere with no internet, no phone signal, and no access to public transportation which I needed. I had no car. I didn’t even have my licence.

If that wasn’t enough, I learned real soon of her mental instability. It made it impossible to stay with her. Sometimes she would forget me on campus and leave me stranded at night.

Thankfully, friends in my old neighborhood let  me crash at their place. That meant I had a place to sleep and shower every time I got stranded. Still, that was another ordeal. While I was trying to study or do homework, those friends were usually busy entertaining guests, blasting music, and watching movies. I couldn’t concentrate.

The nightmare intensified.

Meanwhile, the search for a new home wasn’t turning up anything. Most of the apartments had been taken during the summer and there was just nothing available.

 Should I Just End it All…?

I started to lose track of my textbooks, my tutorial notes, my clothes, my peace of mind. The stress doubled, tripled and then grew so out of control that I seriously began to consider putting myself out of my misery.

I started to reconsider not just my housing decisions but virtually every other decision I had ever made that took me away from home and across my tiny Caribbean island to a place I didn’t know, filled with people I didn’t know.

Had I made a mistake? Maybe I couldn’t do it. Maybe even after living on my own since I was 16 years old, I hadn’t learned everything I needed to really make it as an adult. If I stuck it out, would I have to wait a whole year before apartments opened up again? And if I didn’t, what would I tell my mother? That I had quit?

These thoughts consumed my every waking moment.

A Break

One day, while I sulked through the hallways on the way to my class, I saw an ad on one of the notice boards at the engineering building. It was a studio apartment for the lowest price I had seen so far in a neighborhood I had never heard of. I decided to give it a chance.

It would turn out to be the best living experience I ever had. The studio was newly built, looked amazing, and came with no housemates. In fact, I was banned from having any: music to my ears. Bills were included in the rent, I had high-speed internet, and the family who owned the place would become a second family.

I realized with relief that it was finally over and I had triumphed over a situation that could have gone far worse.

Lessons Learned

In spite of the absolute misery I endured, I learned a lot from the experience.

Above everything else, it reinforced the importance of networking and building relationships. I survived that experience because of friends and family who gave me a place to sleep and access to a shower. Had I not made these connections, I would have spent quite a few nights out on the street.

I also learned that sometimes life gets much worse before it becomes better. It’s not always a linear path to success and the journey is rarely ever just a forward movement.

The new apartment I got turned out to be much better than the house I had lost over the summer, which would have required me to deal with housemates yet again. So in the end, becoming homeless turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

One month and a half of suffering turned into two years of absolute bliss and peace to complete the last of my college education stress free. I finally had the space, the privacy, the savings, and the freedom to excel.

And who can complain about that?

Photo Credit: Splitshire

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