By Eli Davis
Whether caused by a mental or physical disease, drug or alcohol addiction or family issues, homelessness does not care for a reason.
During the event, which was presented by Hillel and the Jews in Greek Life Fellowship, eight University of Maryland students met with a panel of three representatives from the National Coalition for the Homeless, all of whom have experienced, or are currently experiencing homelessness. Alan Banks, Candi Darley and Steve Thomas shared their unique stories of their lives and challenges while dealing with homelessness.
At one point Banks held a job that was paying him over $100,000 a year. He owned a car, a boat and a house overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
Darley immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight with her family from Panama. Moving to the U.S. was a struggle, she said, but she was still able to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
Banks’ depression eventually became too much, as did Darley’s fibromyalgia, a disease which causes widespread pain and is often associated with depression.
“Depression is a disease that affects you from making proper decisions,” Banks said. He failed to budget his money and stopped going to work, eventually leading to his first homeless stint.
Once Banks was back on his feet, he was robbed at gunpoint outside of his apartment and was shot four times in the hand and wrist as he tried to fight off the intruder. Because of the expensive surgeries and time missed from work due to his rehabilitation schedule, Banks was homeless for a second time. “I ended up back in the shelter through no fault of my own,” he said.
“Homeless people don’t always start off bad…it just kind of creeps up on you,” said Emily Goldman, a sophomore journalism major and one of the students who organized the panel. “It can happen out of nowhere.”
Darley’s battle with fibromyalgia led to a divorce between her and her husband. “It sent me into a tailspin,” she said.
After living with her son for two and a half years, her house went into foreclosure. She was forced to send her son to live with her ex-husband and Darley began to live in a shelter.
Thomas was never in a situation with as much promise as Banks or Darley, but he still ended up in the same place. “I never saw it coming,” Thomas said. “Everyone has a different story of what led them into homelessness.”
Thomas grew up in an abusive home. “The person doing the battering was my mother,” he said. “My mother never encouraged me. I was never a priority.”
Thomas said it cost him his ability to concentrate, especially in school. However, he was able to graduate from high school and find steady work.
Thomas, who admits he grew up with low self-esteem, began to experiment with drugs and alcohol so he would fit in, a mistake that eventually led to his homelessness.
He warned that homelessness would become part of anyone’s story if they get involved with drugs and alcohol.
“Took me 30 seconds to try cocaine, took me 30 years to get off of it,” he said. “I had no idea of the addictive nature.”
“The only thing I wanted [while being homeless]…was my mommy,” he said. “I didn’t want my mom or my mother. I wanted my mommy. I never had anyone in my life like that. If you have someone like that in your life, you’re living in a fairy tale.”
“Homelessness doesn’t care how much money you have, where you live or what color you are,” Banks said.
All three panelists emphasized, that like their audience, being homeless never entered their minds until they were living on the street.
“Homelessness is one bad decision away,” Thomas said. “Your parents played a big role in your life [to get you to the University of Maryland]…and you take that for granted.”
“Never assume you’re that much different than people who are asking you for money,” said Corinne Bernstein, engagement associate for the University of Maryland’s Hillel. “We don’t know their story, and assuming is the worst thing we can do.”
“You have the ability to effect change…sometimes it as simple as saying good morning,” Thomas said. “A lot of times it’s not about the coin in the cup but the acknowledgement.”