On the Edge: From Homelessness to the Classroom


By Kelly A. Ortiz –

I was on the edge of losing myself, my home, and my dignity in 2015.

It was just a couple of days before Thanksgiving when I was evicted from my apartment. This was my rock bottom: everything I had was either lost or in storage.  I didn’t want to go to a shelter again and put my daughters through that ordeal. With nowhere else to go, I returned to my mother’s house where my three daughters and I crammed into one room. It was then that I decided I would never feel the weight of homelessness again.

I turned to public assistance to get back on my feet and find permanent housing. Too often people view individuals on public assistance as a detriment to society. We all know the stereotypes—drug users, uneducated, too many children, lazy, etc. But for me, public assistance was a passing of hands, an opportunity to better my life for myself and my children. I was finally able to have my own space again which allowed me to regain some of the dignity I had lost.

During this difficult time in my life, I came to discover who I really was and realized I was a fighter, not a quitter. I felt like a painter about to create a new masterpiece on this newfound blank canvas that I was given. So I prepared myself to return to John Jay College to finish my B.A. in Criminal Justice at the age of 36. The support I receive at John Jay feels like a breath of fresh air. I’m currently working with the CUNY Edge program and they are a great support.

In addition to the support from CUNY Edge, I have found comfort in hearing my professor’s story of being a young mom and making a career for herself in corrections. She showed me a level of empathy that not only affirmed my decision to come back to John Jay, but assured me that I was on the right track. If I am being honest, I felt awkward when I first sat in the classroom with other students who are young enough to be my children. Perhaps it was the technological divide, generational differences, or simply just not feeling intelligent enough. But as a non-traditional student I realized quickly that my younger classmates would go on to teach me a lot.

Sometimes the best struggles make the best stories and I wanted to share my own story here in hopes that it would break the stigma attached to being on public assistance, homeless, and being a non-traditional student.  My academic journey at John Jay College so far has been a positive experience and I am thankful that I am able to pursue my degree at a school that shows empathy and support to their students. In life you are going to hit rough patches, and while you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, remember that you are always on the edge of greatness. You must persist.

Kelly Ortiz is a student at John Jay College majoring in Criminal Justice.

2 Comments on "On the Edge: From Homelessness to the Classroom"

  1. Thank you for sharing your story Kelly. I found it powerful and motivational. Education is so important for the student and obviously you are modeling the way for your daughters. Keep up the good work.

  2. Serenity Baello | January 10, 2018 at 1:25 am | Reply

    Kelly you are a shining star! A role model and an inspiration. I am so happy for you and how you have shown much courage and strength. I am very proud of you cuz! You rock girl. Prayers are sent out for you to receive abundant blessings. Keep up the good work.

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