Opinion: I Was A Homeless Teen And I Don’t Support Free Money Programs For Students In Need

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | 2 months ago

free money for students

When I was a senior in high school, my father was an abusive alcoholic. I had survived an abusive relationship and my mother abandoned me after I attempted suicide. My sister and I lived like adults. We had our own rooms in my dad’s basement, worked jobs, and bought our own food, clothes, and gas for her car. My dad was a binge drinker who held a steady job and had a steady girlfriend. To him, he never had a problem, but it was during one of his off nights that we got into a fight where he strangled me. In order to breathe I had to kick, claw, and bite my way free.  

When my sister and his girlfriend finally broke us up, it was obvious that I couldn’t stay. My sister realized that she couldn’t live this way anymore either. We both left with what few things we could pack. Suddenly I didn’t know where I was going to live, more less graduate. 

My sister and I still had our jobs so we started to think about supporting ourselves. We devised a plan to get our own place, but in the meantime we had to be honest with the people in our lives and find somewhere to stay. We bounced around for a few nights, going wherever we could (sometimes split up), but eventually a close friend had us sit down with her parents. They offered to let us crash in their basement for a few weeks while we worked and saved up for a deposit, and I had to finish school. That was a strict rule. 

Jessica Marie Baumgartner Now

Once that was settled, I had to meet with my boss and ask for extra hours. He was accommodating, and scheduled me for double shifts every weekend, plus evenings throughout the week. This allowed me the time needed to keep going to class, which greatly relieved my choir teacher who tracked down the number of where I was and expressed her supportl. 

When most people think of homelessness they think of toothless bums under bridges warming themselves by a trash fire. They don’t often imagine teenagers walking away from an abusive parent and couch surfing as they save up for their own place, but that is more common than everyone thinks. When politicians propose policies like the new California bill, which would give free checks to low-income students, or even universal basic income, I think back on what happened to me and how I was driven to fend for myself because I had to. There were no other options if I wanted to have a stable life.

Even back then I realized that I needed to ask for help in order to receive it. Individuals in worse circumstances may have a harder time seeking aid, but that makes it ever more important for their own well-being. Instead of throwing “free-money” at people who are struggling my experience tells me it would better benefit students and adults to provide more community outreach. 

Everyday I am grateful that I had an employer who was willing to increase my hours. Each night I am thankful for people like my friend’s parents who took a chance and sheltered a couple of homeless girls. Every time I find new successes I remember the teachers and administrators who encouraged me to finish school under strenuous circumstances. That is the kind of support low-income students and students who face homelessness need. The value of hard work is fully understood when your existence depends on it. The beauty of humanity shines brightest when you are forced to seek help from others despite your own embarrassment and suffering. 

Programs offering no-strings-attached money never offer long-term success. All they do is create more issues. They imposed government dependency, remove the need for strong community ties, fund addiction issues, and allow mental health to deteriorate instead of addressing causes like trauma and imbalances. In order to offer long-term solutions, homeless students need opportunities to better themselves and their situation. Whether those come from employers, teachers and neighbors, private charities that offer discount food and clothing, volunteers like myself, or all of these combined, they offer a stronger sense of self-worth and hope for the future than “free money” ever could.

Universal basic income proponents don’t consider that governments who give out “free money” also have the power to dictate how it is spent. As with universal healthcare, if something is considered “too expensive” or “too experimental” it is often denied. I am weary of programs that allow an elite body of “leaders” to dictate my lifestyle because I have worked so hard to earn everything I have. Personal choice means more than any ruling body’s agenda. It is what keeps us free, and that only works when we can work and spend as we choose without interference.