Formerly Homeless Man Returns to College After Dropping Out in the 1970s

David Carter dropped out of the University of Texas in Austin at age 23.

He once was homeless, but now he's college bound.

David Carter, 67, dropped out of the University of Texas in Austin when he was 23. Four decades of mental health issues and substance abuse took a heavy toll.

He ended up panhandling on the streets near campus, and one day not long ago, a journalism student stopped to interview him — and ended up changing Carter's life.

On Thursday, Carter returned to campus as student, with his tuition paid by an anonymous alumna who heard of his plight.

His re-entry into university life is due in great part to the kindness of Ryan Chandler, a junior majoring in journalism who stopped to interview Carter and became his friend.

After hearing Carter's hard story, and getting to know him, Chandler decided to help him navigate the bureaucracy of gaining re-admission to the flagship campus of the University of Texas system.

"David hasn't been in college for many decades. ... He doesn't have access to the internet," or possess a cellphone, Carter told from Amsterdam, where he is attending an overseas journalism program. 

Chandler set Carter up with a college adviser, dug up Carter's old transcripts and discovered that Carter, who once dreamed of becoming an artist, had accumulated 87 hours of course work. He wasn't that far off from a degree.

He has only a semester to go. The university's College of Fine Arts has agreed to monitor Carter's studies and help him in any way it can.

"David Carter's resolve to complete his degree is testament to finishing well what was started, and disrupted, even decades earlier," said Dean Doug Dempster in a statement. "We're going to give him every assistance to help him through his remaining coursework. We're grateful for the generosity of fellow Longhorns who are stepping up to support Mr. Carter."

Chandler took Carter's circumstances to heart because "I really cared about David's stories," he said. "Many people on campus see (homeless) people as damaged or lazy people."

They see a stereotype instead of a human being, he said. "If you are homeless, it is no fault to yourself."

Carter's troubles simply overtook his life, said Chandler. 

As a young man, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He began drinking. He didn't think he would ever be able to draw again after he punched his hand through a glass window while on a bender. He became estranged from his family and ended up on the street.

About six years ago, with help from a nonprofit homeless advocacy group, Carter slowly began to turn his life around. He found subsidized housing and works odd jobs when he can find them. He still panhandles. 

He plans to study history. He would love to write books.

Chandler said he will always be there to help Carter. Austin has a large homeless population, he said, and speaking for them is something he does now as part of his everyday student life.

When you have no place to lay your head, he said, "you still have hopes and dreams."