Renee Brown, 21, carried her 45-pound luggage and two smaller bags to a small corner of the Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, her new home. She stretched out her floor mat and fluffed her cold pillow between a bickering couple and a chain-smoking pregnant woman.
That night, and every night after, the third-year biology student from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. would swallow two sleeping pills to fall asleep. Sleep was her only escape from the screaming reality of a life on the streets.
It was just five months ago that Brown was enrolled at Florida A&M. Brown lived in College Club Apartments and supported herself with financial aid; there was no additional assistance from her family.
Even with financial aid, Brown’s expenses became unmanageable. She finally withdrew from FAMU and decided to transfer her credits over to Tallahassee Community College, because of cheaper tuition rates. The only issue preventing her transfer was an incomplete transcript, with an extra class that didn’t belong on her transcript. TCC gave her an ultimatum: move the class or don’t enroll. Brown rushed back toFAMU to get the class removed.
Brown was told the only solution to her problem was to buy another transcript. Brown paid for a new transcript with a money order, but the transcript never came. She went back to Foote-Hilyer to find out what happened to her transcript, and was told there was nothing on file for her.
“I remember crying in front of that lady,” said Brown, recalling the sharp turn for worse in her downward spiral.
While trying to fix her transcript, Brown missed the August session of registration at TCC.
In October 2010, College Club took her to court and sued her for $1,626 in late fees and overdue rent. The original amount College Club sued her for was around $4,000.00, but the judge dropped certain charges because of Brown’s financial and working status. Brown was evicted from College Club directly after her court case.
“I went straight to the Shelter down on West Tennessee,” said Brown.
Vickelle Boggs, a third-year social work student from Miami, took care of Brown and her things while she stayed in the Shelter.
Her daily routine consisted of a breakfast of heavy pastries at 6:30 a.m., then packing to make sure she was out of the shelter by 8:15 a.m., closing time.
Brown spent her days applying for jobs, but she quickly became discouraged when she still couldn’t find a position.
“Men would rub up against me, and I was robbed for one of my bags,” said Brown. “People were constantly fighting over bed space, and there were children staying there because of a burned down home.”
Grimy blankets, hairy community soap and public bathing hours became an everyday occurrence for Brown, and started to slowly morph her psyche.
“I smoked cigarettes, smoked weed, and I slowly picked up the habits of others,” said Brown. “I felt alone, as if I wasn’t a part of the world. My family had no remorse. I spoke to my mom about the situation, and she laughed.”
Brown used words like “lame,” “pathetic,” and “loser” to describe herself during this period.
Brown’s family mailed her a ticket to come home for Christmas break, a gesture Brown considered to be a small victory.
“It was kind of comforting knowing that I was leaving the Shelter, but I wouldn’t even consider them family,” Brown said. “By definition, I guess that’s what I have to call them.”
After the break, she switched her financial aid from FAMU to TCC, registered for classes and spoke with the housing office about her living situation, and lives in Diamond Hall.
“Now that I look back on it, it’s so weird when you overcome something, because the struggle doesn’t look as mighty as it did while you were going through it,” said Brown. “Struggles not only make you stronger, but they make you humble. The suffering brings the compassion out of us.”