Alicia’s Story. She is 22 years old.
When my sister and I were young, we often would watch movies about beautiful princesses in far off countries. In our favorite stories, the heroines would begin their story as pretty, pure-hearted young women who, through struggles and determination—and maybe a little bit of magic—would overcome their difficult circumstances to reach a state of “happily ever after.”
Now, I’m fairly certain that no one ever told me my life would be a fairy tale, in fact, I was continually told that life isn’t fair. However, I was just as frequently told, as a child, that, through hard work, I could do anything to which I set my mind. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” and I had dreams of getting my degree in visual arts from the University of Saint Francis. My family has had ties to Saint Francis since I was a little girl. I would go to Rolland Arts Center to see my uncle’s dramatic performances by the Saint Francis Jesters, and I knew that I wanted to have my college experiences there, so, when I got my first job at the age of fifteen, I began setting aside money to help pay $24,000 a year in tuition. I knew that it would take a lot of hard-earned savings to be able to attend Saint Francis, but their Department of Visual Arts is unparalleled by any other program offered at surrounding schools, and I felt the sacrifices would be worth the gain.
Unfortunately, I did not foresee the additional personal and financial difficulties that developed during my junior and senior years of high school. I don’t want to seem like a victim or a martyr, but when my father lost his job, my parents removed the money I had in my saving account without consulting me. Soon, their financial woes led to bankruptcy and divorce. It was at this time that my mother informed me that the man I had known as “Dad” my entire life was really my stepfather.
To further this bombshell, my father felt no need to resume any responsibility for me once I learned the truth. The fact that my father no longer felt a need to care for me was incredibly hurtful; however, his and my mother’s clear favoritism towards my younger sister suddenly made sense. I was no longer confused about why she could miss curfew without mishap or punishment, and when she became pregnant as a teenager, both of my parents made it apparent through their actions that any support and resources they had to offer would go to her.
By then, I was a freshman at Saint Francis. In order to afford my first year, I accepted any loans available to me. This meant that the bulk of my debt was unsubsidized, but it was the only assistance I could receive due to my parents’ financial history. Around the time that I was completing my spring semester, my mother and sister moved to Ohio. Since my father had made it apparent that I was no longer his daughter, I found myself without a place to live during the summer months, and there it was. I was displaced. Not only had I lost my father figure, my nuclear family, and my college savings within the space of two years, I no longer had a place to live—let alone call home.
I am now a senior at Saint Francis. Through sheer determination and exhaustive effort, I have worked full-time while completing 18-24 credit hours each semester for the past four years. I have lived in my vehicle, I have shuffled between friends’ houses, and I have sporadically stayed with a generous aunt. My belongings are scattered between my grandfather’s garage, the trunk of my car, and anywhere I can manage to find a bed for the night.
Sometimes, when I look at my life, I am overwhelmed with sadness due to my lack of roots; I am not just house-less, I am home-less. I knew that going to college would mean that I would need to make sacrifices and work hard, but I never guessed that my princess montage—you know the moment in the movie when the girl would show her worth and change her life with perseverance and will-power while singing about her plight—would take this long or require this much effort. I never thought I would be missing the comforts of my family and my home life.
I’m doing everything they tell you to do if you want to succeed. I work forty-hour weeks, I get good grades, and yet I am always a few payments behind. I always have a few more bills to pay, and I will graduate with several tens of thousands of dollars against my name. I try not to feel the shame of my circumstances—my lack of home is temporary, but it is difficult to dream of the future, hard to have pride in my accomplishments, it is even trying to maintain daily stamina when I don’t always have a place to sleep at night.
Throughout this entire experience, there has been one consolation, however. Cinderella had to rely on her Fairy God Mother to get her from the sooty fireside to the grand steps of a castle. But, when I make it there, I’ll be able to say that I did it without magic. I did it on my own.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Lutheran Social Services and the Office of the Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.