Once Homeless College Student Recalls Sleeping in Cars and Libraries to Pay Tuition

The University of Virginia alumnus said she had a hard time planning for the future when she was in "survival mode."

Today, Destinee Wright is a college graduate and a successful business owner, but she said it wasn’t long ago she was homeless as a student at the University of Virginia.

Wright said that when she began studying at UVA, she had a hard time affording both her college tuition and a place to stay. So, instead of giving up her studies, she decided to sleep in her car.

She put up blankets over the windows of her old Volkswagen, and while other students worried about their next exam or party, Wright worried about what would happen when it started to get cold outside.

"It was especially hard being at a place like UVA which has a lot of privileged students, a lot of students who don't have to worry about bills or worry about where you're sleeping so that was kind of like an added factor into how I felt about being at UVA,” she told WCAV.

She said being in “survival mode” also made it hard to relate to other students since as they planned their futures, Wright needed to think about what would happen to her that night.

“You kind of can't think about what the next step would be or you can't start to create a long-term strategy for yourself because you're in the moment,” Wright said.

One night, she found herself studying and sleeping in a 24-hour library on campus – one that was closed on weekend nights – when someone approached her and suggested she speak with Dean Michael Mason of the Office of African American Affairs.

“We’re pretty invested in making sure that students are able to learn without the worries of whether they can afford their books or whether they can have meals to eat, or whether they can afford housing,” he said, and made it a priority to help her find somewhere to stay.

Mason eventually set Wright up in a dorm and helped her get full financial aid.

"Once I was able to have a safe place to sleep, it was just this weight lift and it's like, 'Oh OK, now I can actually start to plan for what my life is going to look like after college,'” Wright said.

Mason added, "She went from not knowing where she would sleep to being able to completely focus on her academics and do extremely well."

Now, the pair encourage any student that may be facing homelessness reach out to their Office of the Dean of Students to get the help they need, so that no student will go through what Wright did.