Homeless student living on campus finds her footing with Valley’s Helping Hands Foundation
By Jessica Perez, Staff Writer
Twenty-five-year-old Valley College student Danielle Harris has spent part of her time on campus sleeping in hallways, bathrooms and any other place she could find to rest.
For the past year, Harris has been living the grim reality of homelessness. Struggling to find her next meal, and constantly on the move. For protection, she slept with a knife.
“I kept my stuff packed away under one of the bungalows, and one night, I received note from a cat lady that roams the campus at night,” Harris said. “She told me that my crap didn’t belong there; she took my stuff and threw them away. I was terrified.”
Harris, a native of Arkansas, made her first move to Florida in 2015. Disagreements with her parents about her tomboyish personality caused her to feel insecure around her family.
“I wouldn’t say they don’t support me,” Harris said. “They’re my parents and are always going to be there for me regardless, but they don’t understand my situation, so they’re not sure how to deal with it.”
After months of living out of her truck in Miami, she contemplated moving to New York, but decided on Venice Beach and later found her way to the San Fernando Valley. She hoped to attend the LA Film School to study music, discovered she needed $36,000 to attend. As a result, she began drifting from job to job, working as a security guard and at a hostel in order to have a place to sleep.
Even with work and a place to sleep, she continued to face obstacles, as authorities impounded her truck after being caught without a license.
“I couldn’t ask anyone for help because I felt embarrassed,” Harris said. “My pride stopped me from asking my parents, so I toughed it out.”
Through word of mouth, Harris was introduced to Valley’s Helping Hands Foundation. The foundation helps college students experiencing homelessness transition into shelters, while assisting them in finding their own place.
Since February, Valley College has provided Harris with the essentials such as food, clothing, transportation, and a place to shower. They have also helped her get financial aid and covered her tuition costs.
Helping Hands connected Harris to The Village Family Services Transition Age Youth (TAY). It’s a program that empowers homeless youth ages 14-25 in the Los Angeles County. TAY’s goal is to help students find jobs, counseling, peer groups, life-skill training, and housing. The program has helped Harris transition into the shelter where she lives.
Now living in a shelter, she continues her educational pursuits in engineering and hopes to transfer to UCLA. She embodies her creative side by taking sculpture courses, and enjoys the tactile experience of art. Making the most of her situation, she feels the need to find herself, and start living life on her own terms, in a journey driven by a positive mindset of a new day.
She is starting and online business making and selling bracelets and T-shirts. Although she’s been thrown into personal and financial hardships; she carries herself with charisma, humor, and an aura that radiates positivity.
Note: Brittany Zelada contributed to this story.