Homeless not Hopeless
After over a year without a place to go, balancing both the anxieties of homelessness and college, Michael Beck finally returns home.
Beck, 66, a disabled veteran and former homeless student at LB, is currently looking to finish out an Associate Degree in Computer Aided Design and Drafting.
After 20 years of service, Beck left the Air Force in 1992 and lived in Buffalo, New York, until August 2016, when he decided it was time to come home to Oregon. Staying at his sister’s home in Jefferson didn’t work out, so he hopped on his bike and rode down to Albany and began staying at a KOA campsite in October of 2016. As the winter season approached, Beck moved into a Community Outreach Inc. (COI) Shelter in Corvallis to stay out of the cold.
“I ended up in Corvallis in November and then basically ran out of money and places to go,” said Beck.
Beck, who has a 30 percent service disability, was able to get into a bulk rehab program called Chapter 31. The program provides assistance to eligible veterans and service members with service-connected disabilities in finding suitable employment.
“The purpose is to give individuals an opportunity to gain some skills. They pay for my tuition, buy some books, school supplies, everything. They also provided me with a computer and a printer, headphones, things like that. They pay me a subsistence allowance to go to school,” said Beck.
Beck also says he has received good support from shelters, but the biggest issue he has faced as a student in the shelters was getting time to study. Not only did Beck have to be back at COI before 9 p.m., he wasn’t allowed to use his computer in the facility because of it’s recording capabilities.
“If I could do any study time without the use of my computer I did. I was given some opportunities to do that, but I was still limited,” said Beck.
“As long as I am in the building, I cannot use my computer. I have to wait until I’m outside. It created challenges with writing classes: you have to type it all up. Math classes [are] also challenging. With the introduction of ALEKS for the math classes, it’s all online.”
Beck utilized several different outlets to gain internet access, such as The Valley Library and Memorial Union at OSU, as well as the Corvallis Public library. He also moved into the men’s homeless shelter in south Corvallis in November 2017, where they were more flexible with internet access. However, due to the high volume of people in the shelter and the amount of noise, the Corvallis shelter became a difficult place to study as well.
“There are a lot of different challenges, a lot of different things that I have to deal with that I wouldn’t have to deal with if I lived at my own place. A lot of those things would be taken out of the equation and I could study when I want to, not having to say ‘okay I have to study between this hour and this hour,’” said Beck.
Beck also listed some of the resources for homeless students that he would like to see implemented at LBCC.
“Someplace to go to study during the winter months, someplace warm besides your car, and wifi accessibility. These little things would make just a slight bit of difference and make it just a little bit easier for students to excel and to accomplish the goal that they are trying to do,” said Beck.
LBCC’s Vice President for Student Affairs Bruce Clemetsen acknowledged the difficulties homeless students are presented with and says that the college has to do more to help.
“It does create a problem when you can only access online and a computer for a certain period of time. If somebody is receiving financial aid, lets try to build that into their budget,” said Clemetsen.
“What we want to try to do is try to learn how to connect people to resources. Since we don’t have housing, we need to work through to get a stable place to study that’s warm. Finding food, so the lunchbox that we have has helped a little bit, but we need to do more to help.”
Clemetsen talked about the new scholarship database at LBCC and encourages students who are having difficulties to utilize it as a resource.
“We really want to encourage people to use the scholarship system with the foundation. It’s new so it really tries to line you up with the scholarships you are eligible for based on your profile and push that to you,” said Clemetsen.
“I guess we’re at a point where we are trying to develop some tighter resources and some experts on campus that could actually help students line up some of those resources. That way we don’t have students wondering about who to talk to and what to do, or that kind of thing.”
Clemetsen added that the college has much more room to learn about homelessness and wants to encourage students who are facing these difficulties to come forward and find help when they need it.
“We don’t know who’s homeless and who’s not, and we’re going to present a better, more open environment to that. I mean, we’ve had some staff experience homelessness, so it’s not an unknown experience for some people. That’s why they really want us to step forward,” said Clemetsen.
“We have a lot to learn, we’ve learned some over time, and we have an affordability task force. One of the things they’re trying to figure out is what do we not know? What do we need to know? How do we start getting some support for students?”
Beck was recently featured in a Corvallis Gazette-Times article back in December titled “Homeless for the Holidays,” which detailed the struggles that homeless people face in the Corvallis men’s homeless shelter during the holiday season. While Beck is appreciative of the article bringing attention to the issue, he wanted to express that homelessness is not limited to the holidays: it is a year-round struggle.
“Someone will glance at that article and see the difficulties homeless have during the holidays, but homeless is homeless. It’s all year long,” said Beck.
After checking Craigslist every two to three days since the beginning of December, Beck was finally able to move into his own room on Feb. 1.
“For the first time since October 2016 I was able to say ‘I am going home.’ Being such an emotional person it chokes me up and brings tears of joy to my eyes,” said Beck.
Beck hopes his story will help more students struggling with the same issue come forward and look for help. He also wants to encourage students to stay patient and never give up.
“I’m not the only one out there, there’s other students in this school and there are individuals sleeping in their cars because they have nothing,” said Beck.
“I want to Bring up the level of awareness to let people know that it’s not just me. It’s me plus hundreds that are struggling with the same thing.”