A photo of Sheila White leaning against a University of the District of Columbia sign and wearing her student ID
Sheila White wearing her student ID at the UDC campus. Photo by Ken Martin

Most students don’t start their day with “WAKE UP!” at 6 a.m. 

I’m not most students.

My “dorm” is a shelter. My “library” is any place where it’s quiet. My “study hall” has people who don’t care about books or tests or essays. 

I’m out the door at 7 a.m. Takes me a while to reach the University of the District of Columbia, and I don’t want to be late for either my Introduction to Algebra or my Algebra 101 classes. So I push myself, because missing a lecture means falling behind. And math is hard enough even when you stay with the syllabus. 

It’s extremely difficult trying to study in the shelter. The day room is always occupied by other residents. I can’t study in my “room” because 10 other people share it. So I have to go outside to a park or a museum. But sometimes I’m afraid to do that because I might get robbed for my laptop or my other belongings. 

“LIGHTS OUT!” happens at 11 p.m. Now I can finally study. But suddenly it’s midnight, and I have to get to sleep so I’m not that tired in the morning. 

Living in the shelter is very challenging. If I’m late for check-in, which can be as early as 4 p.m., I’ll lose my bed. That means sleeping on the streets again, which also means doing homework on the streets, which means my laptop and my books get wet. 

But even getting my bed isn’t always so great. Someone stole all my clothes. That was upsetting enough, but I’m most pissed about the person taking my UDC hat and shirt. Those two meant a lot to me. I was proud to wear them. 

I’m even prouder I earned a C in Introduction to Algebra and a B in Algebra 101. Pretty, pretty, pretty good for someone who hates math! And, on July 1, I start my third semester with…Biology. 

People often ask “why do you go to school while you’re homeless”? “Why not?” I say. “I’ve always wanted to learn new things. And though I’m homeless, I’m not helpless.” 

Thanks to my Street Sense Media colleagues Ken and Angie, who always encourage me to write, write, WRITE! And to Willie, my writing instructor, who is always in my face about “show, don’t tell” and helps me write more effectively. 

So, despite the conditions I live in, I’m on my way to a degree in photojournalism. My dream of being a journalist is coming true. When I receive that diploma I want to work behind the camera, I want to help people’s stories come to life.