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Stephanie Lam Headshot

Hard Lessons Learned by the Temporarily Homeless

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The last day of school is usually full of good feelings. Every college student is excited to be going home, graduating, or embarking on a grand adventure for the summer. I was supposed to have my own grand adventure: an internship with an amazing PR company and a whole summer in New York City. I was living the dream. I had everything planned from how I would juggle my part-time job with my unpaid internship to what I would subsist on in order to save money (toast and apples). What I hadn't planned for was being kicked out onto the street at the last minute. In other words, I was homeless.

Not to draw out an unpleasant experience, here's the Sparknotes version of what happened: I found an amazing place to live in for $740 (a steal in Midtown), they had many rules (such as I could only bring two pieces of luggage with me), I packed a year's worth of things into two pieces of luggage and two Duane Reade bags, they said it was too much and would charge me $100 extra in rent, I asked for some time to think about it, they refunded my deposit, and they filled my empty bed within the hour. I had taken too long to think about spending that extra money and now had nowhere to stay for the summer. Defeated, I crawled back to my dorm and cried to my dad. I had never cried since I moved to the city, but it was the first time I had experienced any hardship. On top of it, I was 3000 miles away from home with nowhere to go and my dorm insisted that I vacate my room by noon that day. Needless to say, it was an awful situation. That was 1:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, and the next 24 hours would become the longest day of my life.

After crying to my dad, I wiped my tears away and got on the Internet. I literally Googled "cheap summer housing nyc" and scrolled through Craigslist ads, hoping to find a solution to my problem. I texted everyone I knew in the city, trying to get a lead on a sublet for the summer. A few hours and several desperate e-mails later, I was still homeless and had resorted to staring off blankly into space, fighting back my sobs. Luckily, I had good people looking out for me. My dad made several calls and I received a lead on an apartment. Someone I had e-mailed on Craigslist actually responded and offered to let me have his apartment since it was an emergency. One of my classmates begged his friend to hide me in her dorm room. I received similar offers from other friends within the building. Things were starting to look up, and I might just get out of this dark hole after all. Several days later, I ended up in an amazing apartment on the Upper East Side for only a little more than what I was paying for the other place.

Still, the hopelessness and defeat I felt after losing the security of a home is indescribable. I can only imagine how people living on the streets must feel everyday. The thing that hurts the most, though, is knowing that I brought this all on myself. I had not planned for anything going wrong. It never occurred to me that I might not have a place to stay for three months. I figured everything would fall into place and that nothing bad could ever happen to me. Well, reality hit and it hit me hard. In a matter of hours, all my plans for the summer fell apart and I was ready to fly back home to L.A. with my tail between my legs. But I was very, very lucky. I had good friends and people who were willing to help out someone in a terrible situation. They deserve my gratitude and so much more. I only hope that I can return the favor someday.