Homeless student going through college after being kicked out because of sexual orientation

Jeffrey Smith/Staff Photographer Sophomore Sean VanEvery poses for a portrait Tuesday evening in the Health Professions Building.

With his clothes bunched up to support his head as a pillow and a single blanket, Sean VanEvery sometimes slept on the ground behind a middle school in the summer of 2011.

He can count to the exact day since he became homeless.

In July 2011, VanEvery’s mom gave him the final boot, and he had nowhere to go.

“We just weren’t getting along,” he said. “Part of it was her not accepting I am gay.”

Although he was kicked out of his mother’s house twice prior to the night of July 4, 2011, this time, VanEvery said he knew this was it.

“That’s when I officially became homeless,” he said.

He called his best friend and stayed with her the first night he was on his own, but each night was a struggle not knowing where he could get a good night’s sleep. “Couch surfing” became a way of life.

“I didn’t have security or a permanency in my life,” he said.

Some people turn to other family for support, but his family members didn’t have the resources to financially support him and he didn’t know where his dad was.

“It was hard,” he said.

VanEvery had a part-time job as a teacher’s aide at the local middle school where he would do laundry and shower in the boy’s locker room.

“I was thankful to at least have a job, but it wasn’t enough to pay for rent or anything like that,” he said.

Without a kitchen to make food or a refrigerator to store food, he bought food off McDonald’s dollar menu for more than a month straight, he said.

Without any mode of transportation, he found a way to get to classes in Midland toward becoming a certified nurses’ aide. His friend’s mom would drive him there and back, and most of his earnings from his part-time job went to pay her for the commute.

“I used scholarship money from high school to pay for the classes,” he said. “That’s all I had.”

As the fall of 2011 approached, VanEvery said it was his chance to be the only one in his family to have a college education.

“I grabbed trash bags, loaded up my stuff and moved into the dorms,” he said. “It wasn’t hard to move in … It’s not like I have a lot to my name.”

To have a place to call home in his dorm at Central Michigan University was a blessing, he said.

But he still felt the weight of homelessness on his shoulders as summer 2012 approached.

VanEvery made a new home in Mount Pleasant, although he didn’t have anywhere to call his own. Through the help of Listening Ear, he slept at a homeless shelter many days during the summer.

“It was different. I’m much more privileged in the situation than a lot of people,” he said. “I was just worried that people would steal something.”

VanEvery, now in his second year at CMU, is working as a host at IHOP.

“Things are looking up,” he said. “I’m still in a hole but trying to come out."

Ideally, VanEvery wants to work over the summer at a camp, which he would call home.

Director of LGBTQ Services Shannon Jolliff-Dettore said students losing housing after coming out to family members is an issue. She said in Detroit, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

"It's concerning," she said.

Although it's an issue, she said society is taking steps toward respect to the LGBTQ community. There is still work that needs to be done through education, she said.

According to an article on alernet.org, National Public Radio released a report in July stating rising tuition costs are leaving families unable to pay for college, leaving students hungry and in some cases, homeless.

“While no exact figures are available, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth reports a large increase in homeless students,” the article said.

Many people are curious about VanEvery's situation and ask questions, which he doesn’t mind sharing his experiences.

“I’m very open and willing to tell people,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a lot different compared to other people.”

Originally from Harrison, VanEvery said he doesn’t like to consider himself attached to any place of residency.

“I’m just taking it a day at a time,” he said.


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