Most college students carry the standard few necessities in their backpack—paper, notebook and a writing utensil. When Jonathan started school at Florida Technical College (FTC), he carried his own version of an essential in his backpack—the tent he was living in.
Jonathan is a self-described “product of the foster care system.” He grew up in the Bronx bouncing around from family to family. Once he turned 18 he thought he’d move to the Kissimmee area in an effort to reconcile the relationship with his estranged mother. When that reconciliation didn’t pan out, Jonathan was left feeling essentially option-less. It wasn’t until Jonathan, who had been interested in art and drawing since he was a kid, discovered FTC in the Osceola mall that he decided to make a change.
“It’s all about commitment right now for me,” Jonathan says. “So I commit to different things. I commit to my health and my fitness. I commit to eating everyday. I commit to trying to get good sleep,” he laughs and gestures toward the tent behind him. “If you can call it good sleep. And I commit to my education. I committed to creating a better lifestyle overall for myself even amidst my struggles.”
That commitment paid off. Jonathan finished his classes in December of 2013 and in June he will walk with an Associate of Science Degree in Web and Graphic Design. He was homeless throughout the entire 18-months he was a student. He is still homeless today.
“It don’t make me feel bad,” Jonathan says. “It makes me feel…it gives me that ‘oomph’ to just- I gotta get up, get out of the tent and leave right now and go do something. It just pushes me to do better.”
Jonathan and his girlfriend Michel met the HOPE Team—the outreach program at Health Care Center for the Homeless—through another homeless couple whose tent is nearby. They were given the card of Raul Salas, our Kissimmee HOPE Team Outreach Specialist. Since then, Michel has been able to see one of our medical providers consistently and Raul just recently gave her a ride to an appointment with a much needed neurologist to receive the specific care she needs. Michel describes that when she first met Raul he was surprised that the young woman was homeless.
“I may not look homeless, but I am,” Michel says. “I’m the new face of homelessness…it can happen to anybody.”
Both Jonathan and Michel take efforts to look clean, presentable and any other adjective that may break the stereotypes of homelessness. While strolling through FTC, Jonathan seems perfectly at ease—greeting fellow students and faculty as he blends in with his surroundings. The same could be said as he sees a few homeless gentlemen he knows sitting outside of a Starbucks and checks in with them to see how things have been.
To hear Jonathan’s story from Jonathan himself, watch the video below.