Homeless for the Holidays


The holidays are a time to be thankful. It is also time when we stop ignoring those we pass on the street and chip in a few dollars for a hot meal or beverage.

I believe that when one person sees an act of kindness, others will want to do good, too. So why is homelessness still a growing concern for communities worldwide?

This isn’t going to be another sanitized article that explains the growing need for affordable housing, food, clean water and security. I want to believe that you and I are seeking a higher education so we can gain the necessary tools to fight for our basic human right to those things. So we can come up with solutions to the problems that plague our society, so we can build the future we’ve all dreamt about.

Candee Bell / Staff Photo
The Pierce College food pantry is located next to the Student Life office across from the cafeteria.

I lost count the number of times I have heard someone say that homeless people are homeless because they want to be. Many people have this strange idea that homelessness is like the flu, as if you simply get a flu shot and you won’t be homeless anymore. That would make a wonderful Christmas story… But this is the real world.

If you have lived from paycheck to paycheck like I have my entire life, then you know what it is like to be constantly worried that you might not have enough money for food or gas. Making too much money for assistance and not enough to survive is something that is very rarely discussed.

We have become a sadistic society. Many proclaim, “I had to suffer, so they should have to suffer too.” Instead, we should say, “You are suffering? What can we do to change the system so that you are not suffering and those after you do not have to suffer?”

I apologize if I have made you feel uncomfortable, but there is nothing comfortable about being homeless. The holidays can be especially difficult for homeless students emotionally.

When most students are thinking about which gifts to buy for the holidays to show their appreciation for friends and family, homeless students may be trying to find shelter for when school is not in session. If you are reading this and are worried you will not have a warm place to sleep, you have options. Notify a staff member, tell a trusted friend or make an appointment with Pierce College counselor Megan Irby, so someone can help find you a safe place to sleep.

Megan Irby has helped many homeless students get the resources they need to improve their situation. “I don’t want people to believe it is their fault for being homeless. You can achieve your goals despite these barriers,” Irby said.

Students can dial 211 or call REACH Tacoma Center at 253-573-6590. There is a stigma that shelters are not safe. Pierce College takes care of their students and will not send you to an unsafe environment.

Candee Bell / Staff Photo
Current food supply in Pierce College’s food pantry.

This time last year, I lost my rental space because my landlord needed the room. I found myself having to make the difficult decision to quit my low paying job and stay homeless in California or find a cheaper alternative by living in a different state. I was lucky enough to have a friend from Spain help me move to Las Vegas where living is much more affordable.

I remember this sense of dread slowly crawling up my spine as I waved goodbye to my friend at the airport. By the time I reached my vehicle, panic had set in. I had no job, no place to live and very little money left. I felt defeated, alone and scared. I didn’t think I would be able to climb out of the pit of despair I had fallen into.

I was thankful I had my truck and that the weather was still warm. Many homeless people don’t have the luxury of owning a vehicle. When Vegas did not prove fruitful job results, my family in Washington offered to give me a place to stay. I left all my belongings behind and drove toward salvation.

I have been working toward getting my degree for years, but something always kept me from completing it. I immediately enrolled into a graphic design degree program here at Pierce College. I didn’t shy away from telling the staff about my situation and to my surprise, there are many programs offered to homeless students.

Programs like Basic Food, Employment and Training (BFET) help students who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food benefits to get started on their educational journey. They will also report your school participation, so you can apply for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)-subsidized child care and help guide you into affordable housing.

For more information on this program, you can contact Gunnar Jaeck BFET Coordinator at 253-912-2399 ext. 5770. You can also send him an email at GJaeck@pierce.ctc.edu to schedule an appointment at his office at the Fort Steilacoom Campus.

Candee Bell / Staff Photo
Canned and packaged food can be found in the food pantry.

Did you know that Pierce College campus has a food pantry? Director of Student Programs Cameron Cox said, “Anyone that finds themselves strapped for cash and needs a meal can rest assured that the pantry is there for them. Donations are always appreciated and can be dropped off in the Student Life office.”

The food pantry is located just outside of Student Life offices across from the cafeteria. “We will be having a food drive starting on November 1st and personal hygiene drive this coming February,” said Aidan Helt, Issues and Awareness Coordinator. “We recently got a microwave, so students can heat up their meals when the cafeteria is closed. We are also hoping to get a second pantry, so we can hold more donations.”

Often times we want to make a difference in our communities, but we do not always know what we can do. Food and personal hygiene donations are accepted year round. Take your donations to Student Life across the cafeteria at the Fort Steilacoom Campus and at the Puyallup Campus Student Life office.

I would like to thank each and everyone of you for making Pierce College community one of the best. By helping others we in turn help ourselves.

Donations can be brought to the Student Life office and will supply the food pantry.