A homeless student sleeping at the Eastern Michigan University library because he couldn’t afford both tuition and a home has received thousands of dollars of support in 24 hours since his plight was chronicled by Bridge Magazine.
Ramone Williams, 26, from Flint, has been homeless since the beginning of the fall semester at Eastern Michigan. He slept in his minivan while it was warm, and began sleeping in the campus library when the weather turned cold. His story was told in “He’s a college senior with a 3.4 GPA. And he’s homeless.” posted to the Bridge website on Thursday.
His story of resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity touched the hearts of readers. A GoFundMe campaign for Williams had raised more than $5,900 by 9:50 a.m. Friday, in the campaign’s first 18 hours.
“I want to show him he's not alone in working toward his goals,” Victoria Burton-Harris, who created the GoFundMe account for Williams, wrote in an email to Bridge. Burton-Harris is on the board of directors of Covenant House Michigan, which offers housing and support to the homeless. “Being from Flint and a recent U-M graduate right down the road, I feel compelled to do something. I know how hard it can be to leave Flint and do great things. My heart goes out to him and his determination.”
Dozens of readers offered to open their homes to Williams for the holidays. The library where Williams sleeps will be closed this weekend, only open during the day Dec. 21-23, and will be closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 3.
State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, told Bridge that within hours of the publication of Williams’ story, he began huddling with Eastern Michigan administrators to try to find housing for Williams over the holidays, as well as long-term solutions.
“This has to be fixed,” Zemke said.
In a text message to Bridge, Williams said he’s overwhelmed by the response people have had to learning he is homeless – a situation he considers necessary to get his degree. “It’s been crazy,” Williams wrote, “in a good way.”
A separate GoFundMe campaign to raise money for homeless student services at Eastern Michigan University was launched Thursday night to support Williams and at least five other homeless students on campus. It had raised $180 as of 9:50 a.m. Friday.
“As a college graduate myself, I can only imagine having the extra burden of wondering where my next meal or jacket was coming from,” wrote Leila Ellis who set up the GoFundMe campaign for EMU’s homeless student services program. “Please donate whatever you can to keep individuals from having to wonder where their next meal, jacket or even textbook was coming from. Let's help this program and ensure that they have a means to so much more. Let's ensure they have the possibilities to assist in not only guidance but in making sure members are fed, kept warm in the colder months, have the books needed for classes, shelter for protection and any other needs college students may encounter.”
Other readers flooded the phone lines of the Eastern Michigan’s MAGIC (Mentorship, Guidance, Access In College) program, which offers counseling and some limited financial help to homeless students and students who grew up in foster care.
“There’s been an outpouring of support,” said MAGIC coordinator Joi Rencher. “I’ve been getting calls from around the country. Some want to support Ramone directly, some want to support the program. We’ve had offers of money, gas cards, hotel rooms.”
Rencher said the support is a huge relief for her program, which operates on a shoestring. “Maybe we can buy textbooks for the students next semester,” Rencher said. “We were worrying about what we were going to do.”
“It broke my heart to think what this young man is going thru!!!,” wrote Cassia Pan, in a comment attached to the article about Williams. “I cannot stop crying... Still comparing my wants versus my needs when there are so many people out there with real needs!!!”
(There are several ways to help homeless students at Eastern Michigan, including Ramone Williams. A GoFundMe account is set up in his name here, and a separate GoFundMe account to support homeless student services at Eastern Michigan is here. For more information or to make a donation to homeless student services at Eastern Michigan University, call 734-487-0899.)