Home is where you make it

Fired RA spends three months crashing around Capen, Student Union and dorm floors

On March 20, 2013

  • Eddie Montesdeoca spent several of his homeless nights sleeping on the couches in the basement of Capen. Over those three months, he was forced to adjust his finances, appetite and outlook on life to suit his new situation. Satsuki Aoi /// The Spectrum

For three months last spring, Eddie Montesdeoca was homeless.

His friends' floors were his bed. Alumni Arena's showers were his bathroom. The Commons was his kitchen. North Campus was his living room.

He proved it's possible to live on campus without actually living on campus.

After being fired from his position as a resident advisor (RA) in Wilkeson Hall, he was left room-less. Montesdeoca, a junior political science major, spent the rest of the semester without a home in Buffalo. He was forced to adjust his finances, appetite and outlook on life to suit his new situation.

"It put everything into perspective now," Montesdeoca said. "I mean, I was f**king homeless. Having a crappy schedule or having to wake up for an early class or not getting into a class you wanted - all that means nothing. [My experience] now makes me happy for what I have."

Montesdeoca found himself sleeping in Capen Hall and the Student Union (SU), eating one meal a day but steadily increasing his GPA.

He admits not doing his job properly and said UB had "every right" to fire him. The university gave him the option to stay in his dorm and pay the full semester's price of the room or move out. He couldn't afford it, so he packed his bags.

Montesdeoca had two weeks to move out of his room - plenty of time to pack but not enough to find a place to live, he said. Because of his financial situation, he chose to rotate between several friends' apartments, sleeping on their couches and floors.

"I was pretty much a man without a house," Montesdeoca said. "When I woke up, I would have no idea where I was staying that night."

He didn't immediately let his friends know what was going on. Instead, he would find new excuses to tell them.

"I never really wanted to explain the story of being homeless to my friends because it's really embarrassing," Montesdeoca said. "I would ask a friend if I could crash on the floor because I was really tired and didn't want to go back to my dorm. They would usually say 'yes.'"

Eventually, his friends figured it out and sympathized.

Michael Cohen, a junior history and political science major, welcomed Montesdeoca to his dorm in Porter Hall. Cohen has experienced working with the homeless in various soup kitchens and said Montesdeoca's situation was very similar to what he has seen before.

"If you really look at what 'homeless' is, he simply didn't have a home," Cohen said. "I really understood how desperate the situation was for him. He was really just looking for a place to stay."

For the first few weeks, Montesdeoca believed everything was working out for him. He managed to find a friend's place to stay every night and they welcomed him.

Some of his friends' roommates didn't feel the same way. Cohen said Montesdeoca accidentally borrowed Cohen's roommate's towel. Immediately after, the roommate insisted Cohen tell Montesdeoca to find another place to stay.

Brandon Gonzalez, a junior English major and Montesdeoca's fellow Latin American Student Association (LASA) member, had the same problem. Gonzalez allowed Montesdeoca to sleep on his couch, but after a couple weeks, Gonzalez's roommate said Montesdeoca should pay rent. Although Gonzalez was able to convince his roommate to allow his friend to stay for free, Montesdeoca felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in the apartment.

He turned to the Academic Spine, where he stayed for three weeks.

Some nights, Montesdeoca, the then-treasurer of LASA, would secretly use his swipe card to get into the club's office on the third floor of SU around 11:55 p.m.            Student Association President Travis Nemmer said the policy for club offices follows SU rules; no one can be in SU after midnight. Montesdeoca knew what he was doing was against the rules, but he felt he didn't have another choice.

He slept on a couch in his office, making sure to keep quiet so the janitors wouldn't hear him. He remembered one night he was afraid to leave the office to use the bathroom, so he urinated in an empty coke bottle to avoid the possibility of getting caught in the building, he said.

"It was nerve-racking, not having a place to live," Montesdeoca said. "In the beginning, I tried to be upbeat about it and told myself 'I am taking all these distractions out of my life and I'll be good.' But after a while, it just got really stressful."

Montesdeoca scheduled weekly naps in the library at Capen Hall to get "proper" rest throughout the week. Staying in the library caused him to improve academically. He called it the "silver lining" to his situation. He was on campus the majority of the day, so he spent most of his downtime studying. He also didn't have a place to plug in his desktop, so he used the campus computers. Montesdeoca stored his computer, clothes and all his other belongings in Gonzalez's attic.

Shortly after being fired, Montesdeoca started pledging Phi Kappa Psi, a social fraternity of which Cohen was a member. Montesdeoca said he used the pledging process as distraction from his housing situation. He has since crossed and is an active member of the fraternity.

Montesdeoca lost his meal plan when he was fired. When a friend couldn't give him a meal swipe, most of the money he had saved up from his job back home in Rochester had to be used for food.

"Usually, he had a positive demeanor, but sometimes the stress just got to him," Cohen said. "Homeless, schoolwork, no food, where I am going to sleep? These are all things that he had to worry about every day that we take for granted."

Montesdeoca lived on what he called the "poor man's diet." He would snack on something throughout the day and have one big meal, usually from The Commons, in the middle, so he wouldn't be hungry at night. He lost 15 pounds.

Not having a bathroom was difficult for Montesdeoca. He was never sure when he would have the opportunity to shower, so everywhere he went, he carried a separate bag with him that had his toiletries and a week's worth of clothes.

He showered in the Alumni Arena locker rooms but preferred sneaking into Red Jacket Quadrangle and using the unlocked bathroom by his friend's dorm room. He said he always feared someone walking into a bathroom on campus while he was brushing his teeth.

Montesdeoca, who currently works for SA as an external-affairs liaison, said the most difficult aspect of his situation was telling his parents that he was fired. He ended up telling them three days after he found out but omitted the details of his living situation. As far as they knew, he was spending the rest of the semester at a friend's apartment. From the grades they saw, they assumed he was doing well.

Cohen said Montesdeoca broke down a couple times, but overall, he was upbeat. This eased Cohen's worry.

"His optimism was very contagious," Cohen said. "If he had been down all the time, I probably would have been worried, but he always had a positive outlook."

Gonzalez agreed. He said although it was a rough situation, Montesdeoca learned from it. 

"Everything happened so fast," Gonzalez said. "He was really down, but after a while, he started looking at it positively. He told me this is like real life for him because his family always helped him out and this is his first taste of something not going his way. He had to overcome it and be strong, and I thought he handled it really [well]."

Both Cohen and Gonzalez said they know if they were in a similar situation, Montesdeoca would do what he could to help.

Although it is technically Montesdeoca's third year at UB, he is able to graduate this semester.

In September, he moved into a dorm room in Porter. He said he constantly had to remind himself he actually had a place to stay every night.

Montesdeoca said his experience last spring taught him a lot about himself. He was able to move past being homeless and said he is a stronger person for it. He is grateful for the stability in his life now and has a new appreciation for the little things, which seemed far from little for those three months.


Email: news@ubspectrum.com

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