My Bout with Homelessness
Posted May 4, 2017
By Alexis Oliver Williams, MPA
I have an in-depth passion for serving my community. I have such a passion within me to help others, which in return, also helps to replenish my spirit and to continue my work. Some may ask, “Why do you volunteer so much? Why do you work on homelessness issues?” As I look back on my life, I pondered. “What is this innate force inside me to serve?” Possibly, it is the very meaning of my own name, Alexis. The origin of the name Alexis is derived from the Greek word, “alexein” which means to defend or to help. Maybe it is my self-diagnosed Middle Child Syndrome that fuels my need to be the mediator or problem-solver? Definitely, it is my educational and professional backgrounds. My education, which includes a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science and a Master of Public Administration, has provided a foundation for effective oral and written communication. My thorough experience working in government, non-profit management and social services spans over the last 20 years. Perhaps these traits and more have contributed to my determined mission to help others; however, I actually do KNOW the reason why I am so empathic to those that trying to overcome their time of homelessness. I too had a bout with homelessness.
It was summer of 1997. I had just completed my freshman year of college at the Women’s College of Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. I was so proud that I made the Dean’s List for both semesters, maintained my academic scholarships, secured employment as a Resident Assistant for the upcoming school year and was about to begin my TWO summer jobs – part-time as sales associate at JC Penney and part-time as a nanny for the two beautiful children of Reverend Ruth Demby and her husband, Reverend Richard Demby. However, I had a big secret. I had no place to live for summer 1997. I quickly decided to enroll into summer school. That summer semester later proved to be an investment in my educational goals and enabled me to graduate from college Summa Cum Laude with both a minor in Business Administration and as well as in Gender Studies. My going to summer school would provide room, board and three meals a day. But, I so discovered that I still had a BIG problem.
There was a two-week gap between when school ended and when summer school would begin. Where was I going to live for two weeks before the summer semester began?! Driving all the way home to my Grandma Dixie’s house in Muskogee, Oklahoma was too far away and too expensive. I could not return to my childhood home in Savannah, Georgia. So for two weeks, I put my stuff into storage, lived out of my faded navy blue Hyundai Elantra behind the Chi Omega house, rinsed myself and put on my Clinque makeup in the public bathroom at JC Penney and worked on a commission, selling clothes in the Junior’s Department. I also bathed at the Demby’s home while I babysat their two children and ate my meals with them during that time, too. Though I knew that my homeless struggle was finite, I so am thankful for my bout with homelessness. For those 14 days, I learned so much about myself – resilience, perseverance, humility and appreciation. I gained a lifetime lesson and much respect for the homeless community that no classroom, college degree, staff meeting or office cubicle would have ever taught me.