TESTIMONIAL: I slept in my car for over a year. No one knew.

The CSU estimates that 1 in 10 students have been homeless at some point within the past 12 months. On the State Hornet staff, that number is closer to 15 percent. These are some of our stories.

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]t’s been almost five years since I was last homeless. In that time, I’ve forgotten plenty of the details and the stories I accrued over a year and a half of sleeping on couches and in my Nissan Sentra. But I’ll never forget the feelings of isolation, depression and fear.

It started when I graduated high school. My mother was disabled, and as soon as I turned 18 and was no longer in high school, her benefits shrank and we quickly found ourselves with less money than ever.

We lived in motels for almost half a summer before she ran out of money. We developed a routine; sleeping in her Jeep Grand Cherokee for three days, and then renting a motel for one night every fourth day so we could shower. That, and the cost of food, kept us from ever getting enough together to find an apartment.

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That fall, I began taking classes at American River College. I’ve never been a great student; I struggled out of the gate, knowing that I wanted to be a sports journalist and not knowing how to get there as an 18-year-old living out of a car with my mother. My money didn’t go toward textbooks or online learning courses; it was for gas, food, and showers.

Eventually, old high school friends of mine also going to ARC took us in on their couches. 7 people total lived in a two bedroom apartment. Eventually, my mother left for Modesto to go live with her mother.

It is also very important to explain that I have a very kind, helpful father who I never disclosed any of this to, despite him giving me a weekly allowance and eventually a car of my own. I think he had suspicions, but I became as good a liar to him as I was to everyone else. I could have left college and lived with him; I never let myself, and I still regret it.

After my first year at ARC ended, financial aid was gone for the summer for me and all of my roommates. We worked, but our jobs were incredibly part-time. We ran out of money quick, and ran out of favors with friends and family just as quick. Halfway through the summer, I was living in my car.

I started to smell worse than I ever had before. I started keeping my hair short, because my usual long hair couldn’t be kept clean when I went weeks or months without a shower. I kept a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a case of water bottles in my trunk, where the triple-digit heat would least affect them. I could afford to eat once a day on a normal day.

After a month and a half of it, it felt like everything I owned was ruined. I used about half of the money I had doing regular laundry, but my clothes had been permanently affected. I decided that I couldn’t stand the embarrassment of going back to school until I had fixed myself, despite the promise of financial aid. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to get me into a room.

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All of my time was spent in public, so my mind became more private. I grew quieter and angrier than I had ever been. I still feel that anger sometimes now when I’m provoked by something; it’s hard to tell sometimes why I’m mad at all, and it leaves as quickly as it comes.

I started hating my car. It was a five-sense reminder of what my life was. It looked, smelled, sounded, tasted and felt lived-in. Friends or acquaintances who didn’t know about it all asked for rides once, and then never again. I didn’t blame them.

I sat in libraries and bookstores all day until I was asked to leave; the more I went, the more angrily I was asked to leave. I didn’t blame them either.

Eventually, as with everything, the only thing that pulled me out of the situation was kindness from friends and strangers who had nothing to gain.

A friend got me a job at Mrs. Field’s where she worked; the manager hated me, and I worked four hours a week for three months while not attending school, sleeping in my car the whole time.

But Christmas season came and I worked full-time for two weeks. I saved 95 percent of those checks, and was fired on December 26. That money got me through two cold months.

Then, a miracle.

A new friend — new enough that I didn’t even know if we were friends — called me out the first time we were ever alone together.

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“Where do you live?” he asked. After repeating the same lie I had told everyone else I met, he looked angrily at me and asked me again where I lived.

After heavy breaths and tears, I admitted that I lived in my car. I slept on his couch that night and never slept in my car another night. I found a better job, I did better in school, and my life changed.

There are other stories like mine. Worse ones, better ones. None of them, including this one, can accurately reflect how slow the time goes by, and how permanently extended poverty changes a person. It is an experience that needs to be lived to be appreciated, but shouldn’t have to be lived by anyone.