Update: Bridge readers open hearts, wallets for homeless college student

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.

SLIDESHOW: Portrait of a homeless college student

“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.)

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Fri, 12/18/2015 - 11:18am
Such an awesome response from good people!
David Hoort
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 12:12pm
Is there a way we can take this to its next logical step? I am guessing that there are many of us throughout our State whose children are grown and would be willing to offer our home to college students in need of food and shelter.
Rose C.
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 1:02pm
GREAT idea David!!
Julie Mushing
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 12:39pm
Can someone please share with him these opportunities for PAID internships in the media and entertainment industries? Emma L. Bowen Foundation, for Minority Interest in Media: http://www.emmabowenfoundation.com/T. Howard Foundation, increasing Diversity in Media: http://www.t-howard.org/Television Academy Foundation Summer Internship: http://www.emmys.com/internshipPromo Pathway Program: https://www.promaxbda.org/professional-development/promo-pathwayTime Warner Internships: http://www.timewarner.com/careers/areas-of-operation/internshipsWarner Brothers: http://www.warnerbroscareers.com/internships/BET Networks: http://betcareers.viacom.com/internships.html Best wishes to him and his success! Amazing young man!
David Zeman
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 2:27pm
Thank you, Julie, we will pass these on to Ramone. How nice of you to pass on. David Zeman Bridge Editor
Beth Reynolds
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 8:27pm
What a helpful post, Julie. I hope Ramone sees this.
Tony Rothschild
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 2:12pm
We live in a country where fund raising shouldn't be required. Our taxes should support students in need and many other things. Instead we spend billions bombing throughout the mid-east. Sad commentary.
Lance Ubrick-Horvath
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 10:58pm
Well put TR. Support for effort, talent and merit should be available from a collective public purse rather than a "pull on the heart strings" article !
Ned S. Curtis
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 3:21pm
Tony! Right on!! While GoFundMe restores our faith in humanity, governmental support of human needs is fickle.
Sat, 12/19/2015 - 1:32am
I know him personally and he really is an amazing person. Never asking for help, always helping others. He keeps people's spirits up, even in the worst of times. Such a smart young man. You will go far Ramone. There is absolutely no reason for any young adult to be homeless while in school. America is turning into a 3rd world country. Huge homeless problem, cities without clean drinking water and the violence. These are just major issues in ONE State. Time to come together and step it up.
Sat, 12/19/2015 - 3:27pm
Bridge simply described the problem and readers show their capacity to think and act and create a solution. I wish Bridge would take this as an example how turning to the readers for innovative ideas and involvement can fill that dearth of ideas Mr. Power seems to feel exists. Congratulation to the readers, you stepped in when agencies couldn't act [structure vs. time] in a way to solve this problem. Thank you, you are a examples of the season.
Mon, 12/21/2015 - 3:59pm
Here's my problem with this story: "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." So, it took the actions of a legislator for "Eastern Michigan administrators" to care? Where were they before a legislator stepped in and before Bridge reported on this? How many other Ramone Williams are there out there? What is being done for them? GoFundMe is a band-aide. There is no reason why student at any university, let alone Eastern, should be homeless. Osmer Deming EMU Class of 1994
Tue, 01/05/2016 - 8:21pm
What's even more troubling is that these same administrators are now using the publicity from Ramone's story to set up a Go Fund Me site for students "like Ramone." Don't they already have funding in place for these students. Why are they using the Go Fund Me site set up for Ramone to raise money? All of those funds belong to him. If he wants to share it with others, that's his choice --- not theirs.