National Hunger & Homeless Week: On a sense of home & experiencing homelessness

CCH offers these essays by interns, staff and volunteers, writing about what inspires their work. This is the last of our essays during National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week.

By Brian Mayzure, Volunteer

I am a Chicago native, having grown up in both the Bucktown and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. The idea of home, for me at least, was always interwoven with Chicago. My grandfather taught me the grid, as well as the major streets at a very young age because he felt it was of the utmost importance that I know my city and surroundings. He showed me the things he loved about this city — the parks, the boulevards system, the museums, the Cubs, the ‘L’ — and I came to love them all too. 

After my parents’ separation and eventual divorce, my mother and I moved to a small rural town in Tennessee called Martin when I was an early teenager. I was in complete culture shock. This place was so foreign to me that I might as well have been in a different country altogether.

After I graduated high school, I moved to Murfreesboro, Tenn. to attend Middle Tennessee State University. When that didn’t work out as I had hoped it would, I left school and moved up to nearby Nashville, where I lived and worked for many years. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the ensuing recession, I lost my job. A few months later, after exhausting what little savings I had, I lost my apartment.

I spent the next three months homeless. At first, I stayed with various friends, going from place to place for a few days at a time. That got me through the first month, but soon the invites to stay with friends stopped coming. During that time I was desperate for a job, and took whatever I could find, winding up working the evening shift at a convenience store just a few blocks away from the apartment I had been evicted from.

Brian Mayzure
Brian Mayzure

The pay from the convenience store job wasn’t enough to secure the deposit and first month’s rent on another apartment. Thankfully, it was still summer, and I was able to take my tent and go stay at a nearby campground. I paid by the week, and at least there was a shower house and bathroom facilities.

This arrangement worked for a while, though it took some getting used to. At first, I found it hard to sleep with all the unfamiliar noises of the surrounding woods and wildlife. In the mornings, I would awake with the sound of birds chirping and singing that gradually got louder as the sun rose in the sky.

Everything was fine until the autumn rains started. My tent had developed a leak and I was no longer staying dry. The smell of mildew was starting to become evident in both the tent and my sleeping bag. It was time to move into a warmer and dryer place, this wound up being my Pontiac Grand Prix.

After a few weeks of living in my car, my friend Emily came by the store and approached me about moving in with her. Of course I jumped at the chance and quickly accepted her offer. Thus, I began rebuilding my life and was no longer homeless, thanks to the kindness of a true friend.

Homelessness often provokes images of people living on the street. But it could also mean not having a stable place to call home. That instability directly affects a person’s sense of security and can quickly lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness. I was fortunate that I was offered a chance to change my situation, and to get out of the cycle of homelessness and hopelessness.

Brian Mayzure volunteers with CCH through a student group at Columbia College Chicago. He is a non-traditional student who has begun his Columbia studies in graphic design, with plans to graduate in 2017.