From Addiction to College: One Student's Path

Posted on 05. May, 2010 by in IN THEIR OWN WORDS

by Dan Chung

“Phillip,” a 23-year-old student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, has been living at the New York City Rescue Mission in Chinatown for about nine months. He checked himself in to recover from his addiction to heroin. He declined to be photographed or taped for this interview, but in talking to him, we gained a snapshot of an unusual demographic: the homeless college student.

Homelessness affects a wide range of New York City’s population. It affects people from all types of backgrounds, including the highly educated. Statistics about homeless college students are difficult to come by: most homeless college students are tacked onto adult population counts. But Phillip is not alone, and his path to homelessness is not uncommon.

Phillip agreed to meet at Foley Square on New York City’s Lower East Side. He spoke little at first, as if gauging his level of trust. He casually leaned on a fluorescent park bench. His red, buzzed hair and pimples were the only things that revealed his youth.

He grew up in an affluent New York City suburb on Long Island. He dropped out of high school and at the age of 21 he secretly started taking heroin.

“I found myself in a state of desperation,” he said. “It was selfish, avoidable negligence and I deserve to be where I am.”

He checked himself into the shelter for its drug and alcohol recovery program and said he has been drug-free for eight months.

Before moving to the New York City Rescue Mission, he saw the inside of a shelter only once. He was in fifth grade and he volunteered at a soup kitchen. After moving in, he quickly learned to survive in the shelter where he sleeps with 20 other men in the same room.

“You learn to be strategic when you’re living in such a closed place,” he said. “You have to keep a sociopath mentality.”

He learned to be suspicious of everything and to trust no one. Phillip leaves the shelter each morning at 4 a.m. to avoid what he calls petty squabbles amongst his shelter-mates. He is equally as calculated about his relationships outside the shelter. Nobody close to Phillip knows that he lives in a shelter– not his parents, his girlfriend, his classmates or his close friends.

“I hate lying but I can’t explain the situation in confidence,” he said.

This summer he hopes to move in with his mother in upstate New York and continue his education.

In Their Own Words

Related Stories:

Higher Learning While Homeless

A Chaotic First Stop for Homeless Families

Comments are closed.