By Rebecca Flannery
San Antonio junior Alex Gonzalez said his view of homelessness changed drastically when he became homeless himself.
Gonzalez, a management information systems major who graduated high school summa cum laude, overcame odds of living in homeless shelters during high school to attend Baylor after graduation. He, along with his three siblings and mother, lived in two different shelters over a year and a half.
“My father lost his job working in the credit market, and my mother left her job at a Ford dealership,” Gonzalez said. “Eventually, we lost the house we were living in and we had nowhere else to go.”
In the spring of 2010, they moved into Salvation Army Center of Hope, where they were afforded one room with two twin-sized mattresses.
“It looked like a traditional bedroom here on campus, but instead of two people living there, we had a family of five,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t have a lot of freedom there. If I wanted to go anywhere or do anything, my guardian had to be with me since I wasn’t 18 yet.”
Gonzalez said their case manager told them about a new shelter under development in San Antonio called Haven for Hope. They moved there in July 2010.
“I wasn’t used to being homeless,” Gonzalez said. “I thought it was something that was only going to last for a month, and then we’d be in an apartment. That wasn’t the case. When we got transferred, I started doubting if we were ever going to get out of the situation.”
Haven for Hope’s mission is to offer a place of refuge and new beginnings by providing, coordinating and delivering an efficient system of care for people experiencing homelessness.
“The staff at Haven and some of the residents really helped me stay focused and grounded,” Gonzalez said.
In the middle of his situation, Gonzalez said he never told his friends for fear they would judge him or treat him differently. Even after overcoming the circumstances, he’s still not keen on sharing his story right away.
Dr. Hope Koch, associate professor and Gonzalez’s mentor, said she wasn’t aware of his situation until this year.
“We never knew anything about it,” Koch said. “It’s so touching what Baylor has done for Alex to afford to be here, but also he sees these opportunities and goes after them. It takes a lot of gumption to not let circumstances get you down.”
Gonzalez was accepted into Baylor while he was living at Haven for Hope, he said. It had always been his first choice. When staff at Haven for Hope and Baylor alumni had learned about his story and his acceptance to the university, steps were taken to provide a way for him to attend, Gonzalez said.
“I didn’t realize the cost of college until after I was accepted,” Gonzalez said. “There was a ceremony for me at Haven for Hope, and there I was told some notable Baylor alumni wanted to donate to help me come here.”
The university also helped with scholarship money, Gonzalez said. While he will graduate with a few loans, he said it’s nowhere near the cost it would be if he hadn’t received help. Additionally, he said his major is in high demand, which he hopes will help with post-graduation costs.
“Alex really goes the extra mile,” Koch said. “If you ask him to do something, he’ll do it. Not only that, but he wants to raise the standard of education for his peers as well as himself.”
Since being at Baylor, Gonzalez has been involved as a peer leader in the global community living and learning center, a welcome week leader, a participant in the Association for Information Technology Professionals and as an executive board member for the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. He said after graduating from Baylor he hopes to give back to the communities he came from.
“I definitely want to give back to Haven and any programs or shelters that aim towards not only housing the homeless, but also towards transforming them to get back on their feet and into life,” Gonzalez said. “I’d also love to give back to Baylor because if it wasn’t for the alumni who supported me, I wouldn’t be here.”