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College Focused – and Homeless

By “Lotus”

South Worcester, summer of 2023. Worcester must help its homeless – not deny their existence! photo: Rose T.

I always dreamed of going to college. I sure fought my hardest. But as a post-foster youth, a victim of abuse, and a single mother at the age of 18 displaced more than 50 miles from my home, a place to call home was something I longed for.

It turns out that a lack of a permanent address was the biggest impediment to further my education. I desperately wanted to pursue my education. While participating in a program as a young adult, I was the only participant that was striving for a high school diploma. Others were trying to achieve their GED. Some had obtained a GED. Only one other resident had already obtained a high school diploma.

I was expelled my senior year three days before graduation for using headphones in music class. I was told that a book that was lost on school property was my responsibility to pay in order to graduate. At that time I was a recipient of public assistance and an abuse survivor in litigation set for trial against my abuser.

The program sent me a termination letter. I tried to sign myself back into foster care, to preserve custody of my child. Truth was, the foster parents wanted to adopt my son, and all of a sudden the youth who needed services was kicked out of the foster home and rendered homeless.

Being homeless, and at the good graces of others, I was not allowed to receive mail at many of the places I stayed. Additionally, I ran the risk of my information falling into the wrong hands. I figured it better safe than sorry. A lack of a mailing address made it difficult to obtain an ID needed to pursue my education, or even to get an apartment.

… People who fall upon desperate times reach out for help. I was in Western Mass and I sought shelter. While in the shelter I was told by shelter management that I could not study for school full-time because I needed to work. I was pushed to take a job at Subway in Westfield. This was on top of my schedule and being dependent upon transportation and having to pay out of pocket for extended-day childcare.

There was never a rule or regulation that I broke pertaining to education, and I was well within the qualifications of cash assistance, but I am sure that it had to do with my level of education. I was not respected for who I was and where I was in my journey. This impeded my ability to continue my education. This triggered many symptoms of post traumatic stress, particularly surrounding housing insecurity.

While attending Westfield State University as a homeless single mother and non-traditional student, I majored in Criminal Justice. The major courses were held at an entirely different building than the remainder of the campus courses. The majority of my colleagues within my major were young males, majority Caucasian.

I took a CLEP Exam where my score earned me 12 credits for my proficiency in Spanish. Instead of applying the 12 credits, I was only afforded 5 credits. Worcester State College asked for confirmation from the administrator of CLEP. I had my exam scores sent over. Worcester State College realized the error and attempted to correct my transcripts in the semester in which the error was realized.

When Westfield State University was presented with the evidence they refused to respond further. As it stands, I was denied an opportunity to participate in the C.A.P.S. Program reviewed by the State of Massachusetts. I currently hold 126 credits, and I have fulfilled the requirements of both universities, minus an arbitrary residency requirement that would not apply under the C.A.P.S. Program. I was also a MassTransfer Compact student, which allowed me a guarantee of credits transferred in from Holyoke Community College and also allowed for the entire 12 credits. I have been allowed to transfer in all but three courses equivalent to 9 credits already obtained at another C.A.P.S. participating university. I am told that if I want my degree I have to take more courses.

I am now homeless. I have not been able to achieve the educational goals I have set forth for myself – and I didn’t have a choice.