My journey: from the streets to the university

By Sean Walsh, Contributing Writer

Well, it has been a mere 6 months since that nightmare ended. I was homeless again, this time in  Cornelius, Ore. Thanks to some help from some local agencies, my wife and I are in housing. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a roof. A lot has happened this year. My Social Security check arrived in November 2009, housing in December, and now college in March 2010. I’m majoring in computer science.

Things haven’t always looked up for me, though. As a young man, I grew up in the rural hills of southwest Michigan. My parents homeschooled me, or more correctly, since neither graduated, I homeschooled myself. But life without a formal diploma or degree is difficult, and there was a long road ahead.

In 2005, I met the girl who is now my wife of five years. At first all was great. During our first year of married life, I was working as a certified nursing assistant for the state of Indiana, helping developmentally disabled and people suffering from autism. During this period, we spent time touring the northeast U.S., visiting Vermont, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Then my seizures came. Soon after, Melissa and I became homeless. We found a place in southeast Indiana with her cousins. Life seemed to be looking up. Then our landlord had an apartment vacated, and offered us anything that he was throwing out if we helped clean. Unfortunately, one of the tenants was unaware of the vacate notice his wife had left, and Melissa and I were arrested for trespassing. Upon release, we were paid to leave the area, and went to Spokane, Wash. In Spokane, I received training in medical assisting, and worked for about a year with the criminal, mentally ill population. Pay was good, and we bought a home in North Spokane.

During this period, Melissa was working as a deli clerk, a job she doesn’t miss. Well, state cuts occurred in mid 2009, and my job was cut. Homeless again, this time to Portland. Now it is September 2009, the winter is coming quick, and we have turned to selling Street Roots while applying for Social Security. Melissa’s Asperger’s Syndrome and my seizures have gotten worse because of the increased stress. Is there any way out? Well, Street Roots and JOIN were able to help us and now we are in an apartment in downtown Hillsboro. The neighborhood is nice, and the people are nice. But like many places in America, the rent is high.

Now we wait for subsidized housing, a 9- to 12-month wait for Cascadia. But this will open up housing in Southeast Portland at 30 percent of monthly income. As of back in March, I joined Portland Community College’s computer science program at the Rock Creek campus. My aspirations are to be the top of my class, and to go on to Portland State for my bachelor’s degree and then to OHSU for my master’s degree in biomedical informatics.

Unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees. It is a daily struggle. Sometimes even shopping for food can be a burden with increasing prices. But I know that someday I will be able to rise above this rut, and make more of myself. Currently I am working on my Java programming certification and am also writing a program to teach the learning disabled population about trigonometry. (This program can be found at I will keep you all updated as to my progress after I get an established GPA.This spring quarter has been especially difficult. It has been 10 years since I graduated high school and I am trying to retake trigonometry myself. My current goal is to get a 2.75 GPA by finals. Should you want to help me with this huge commitment, Melissa sells Street Roots at the Safeway in the Pearl District on 13th and Lovejoy. I will also be there when I can between classes. Notes of encouragement are also always appreciated. Please direct them to the office. Thanks, Sean Walsh.

Someday I will rise above. I once was lost in the ghetto, but now am on my way to being found!

One response to “My journey: from the streets to the university

  1. Pingback: Former vendor, now student, gives thanks for a good year | For those who can’t afford free speech

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