Alumni, Campus wide, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, College of Nursing, Student Stories

Overcoming homelessness: how two Bucs defied the odds

By Jenna Johnson and Morgan Kirby | September 21, 2021

Homeless. It is a word packed with stereotypes and visuals of tent cities, stranded shopping carts by the woods, or cardboard sign-clad beggars on the street. Every night, thousands of young people experience homelessness alone in the United States. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 550,000 unaccompanied youth under the age of 24 experience an episode of homelessness longer than one week each year.  

Homeless in High School 

For Dewitt Parker, a current Charleston Southern University student, the definition of homelessness meant staying in a hotel as a high school student when he wasn’t welcome in his mother’s home. When he was kicked out, his only choice was to live with his uncle. Yet, they ended up in a hotel for two months.  

Dewitt Parker, left, at Mickey’s House. Photo provided

Parker paid for the room using money that he inherited from his father. But that would soon run out. He didn’t know where to turn. 

At the urging of his track coach, he checked out Mickey’s House

Kim Wilson, former principal of R.B. Stall High School, founded Mickey’s House in 2017.  

“We named it after our main benefactor, who passed away last year at age 92,” he said. “Her legacy was just this – to provide boys an opportunity to continue their lives even when they have found themselves in a situation where they have been displaced.”  

Wilson said housing situations like Parker’s leave much to be desired. “[Parker] managed to make it in a situation where others would have never survived. Students like him, they thrive at Mickey’s House. He had played his own parent role for so long, and when that pressure disappeared, it gave him an opportunity to be a kid and to be taken care of again.” 

The cost to keep up the house is estimated to be about $50,000 per year. They provide food, clothing, and utilities. They also employ house parents. It is the desire of the founders for the students that are living there to be treated like children, not like orphans.  

“A lot of kids can really benefit from their place. You don’t have to pay for anything. They want you to work to save money and finish high school,” Parker said, adding that it helped him do just that. “I was skeptical at first. What if there’s a kid out there who needs it more? I ended up needing it. Family comes first, but sometimes you have to choose what’s best for you and your future.” 

Dr. Kathleen Love, chair of the undergraduate criminal justice program at Charleston Southern, served as a lieutenant with the City of North Charleston until 2017. She was friends with Wilson through her work with R.B. Stall High while overseeing school resource officers. The principal invited her to be a part of this new project designed to help high school youth.  

“I was asked to come in and listen to a pitch for Mickey’s House modeled after ‘Joe’s House’—a place that was already successful. I heard the pitch and I was in,” Love said. Soon after a board was formed, and Love has served on it since. As a board member, Love has watched youth like Dewitt succeed and thrive.  

Because of Mickey’s House, Parker was able to concentrate on his studies and save his money to go to college. With dreams of playing football at a Division I level and getting a degree in psychology, his sights were set on CSU. 

“This was the only school I applied to in South Carolina,” he said. “Every school I applied to, I got accepted. But I came to CSU to tour and loved it.” 

Because of his experiences, he wants to pursue a career as a psychotherapist, adding that he wants to “help people with social issues and talk to them about their problems.” 

Wilson thinks that Parker has what it takes to do just that.  

“I think Dewitt is going to be such a huge success, but I don’t think that it is because of us. It is because of him and his desire to take such a hard situation and still move forward,” he said. 

Pierce’s Pursuit to Purpose 

Pierce being baptized in the CSU pool in 2015. Photo provided

An alumna’s story of homelessness was rooted in a lifelong dysfunctional environment. Victoria McManamay Pierce ’17 grew up in constant transition. Her mother died drinking and driving, leaving behind 3-year-old Victoria and her 3-month-old sister. With her sole parent battling drug and alcohol addiction, the complexity of her family unit was all she knew. 

“I didn’t understand why my dad didn’t love me like I should be loved,” she said, adding that she began drinking and getting in trouble with boys at age 12. In high school, she experimented with drugs. 

Without a mother or an emotionally present father, she escaped to her grandparents every other weekend and during summer breaks when she could. It was Pierce’s silver lining to what she sought as a normal life. 

“If it wasn’t for them to show [my sister and I] what was normal, we would have continued the same path—you repeat what you know,” Pierce explained. 

A young Pierce and her baby sister moved a lot with their father—sometimes staying with friends who did drugs and partied. Though Pierce struggled in her personal life, she did find reprieve and positive attention in school. 

“I was looking for satisfaction, and the teachers knew I worked really hard,” said Pierce. 

With the support of her teachers in high school, she set her sights on going to college and pursuing a career in the medical field. 

One college caught her attention during travels with her grandparents to the South Carolina coastline from Northern Virginia. Pierce said, “I didn’t know CSU was a Christian school at the time. I only knew they 1) had an accredited nursing program and 2) it was close to the beach. It wasn’t on my radar that this decision was going to change my life forever.” 

Pierce with other nursing students her senior year in 2017. Photo provided

The recent high school graduate moved to Charleston without any support. She quickly emancipated herself financially from her father so she could receive financial aid.  

She didn’t want to make the same mistakes as her parents and was determined to see her goals through to the end. Taking a job as a CNA, Pierce put herself through college. But she often found herself couch surfing and spending time in hotels when the dorms were not open. One night, after a scary run-in with two men at a hotel door, Pierce gathered her things and stayed with a friend.  

Experiencing homelessness was a defining moment. “God provided in one of the hardest times in my life. He provided friends who listened to His call,” she said. 

“Looking back, I didn’t know much about God. My dad was a pronounced atheist and blamed God for all the bad things that happened in his life,” said Pierce. “But it was his choices that landed him in the situations he was in.” 

Pierce’s experience with homelessness—both physically and spiritually—began to wear on her.  

“I battled with not feeling good enough—someone from my background, my dad didn’t even love me, so how could God accept and love me?” said Pierce.  

Pierce and colleagues working in a pediatric ER in 2019. Photo provided

After repeated times of hearing but not receiving the Gospel on campus, including testimonies from a group of girls on her dorm floor, she found herself at an extra credit event one day in the Science Building clueless to what God was doing in her life.  

Pierce explained the moment: “I’m sitting there, and Satan is telling me all the reasons why I shouldn’t accept Christ. But I knew ‘this is it.’” On September 29, 2017, she gave her life to Christ and felt the world lift off her shoulders. 

Excited, she shared her story with her father, but he stopped talking to Pierce and later got busted for working a meth lab. Pierce was persistent and shared her testimony with her sister, saying, “We’ve tried everything, why not try Jesus?” 

Her sister accepted Christ more than two years later. 

Pierce shares in a loving moment after her wedding with her husband and son in October 2020. Photo provided

Though her earthly father isn’t a part of her life, Pierce said she no longer sees him as someone who is her father but as a person. “God stripped me of my bitterness and resentment. I’ve forgiven my dad for what he is—he’s never going to be who I need him to be,” she said. “God is our Father. He is that fatherly figure and everything my dad wasn’t.” 

On one of the happiest days of her life, Pierce walked alone down the aisle of her wedding last year. But she said that she wasn’t really alone. “God continually reminds me that He’s with me.”  

Pierce works as a pediatric nurse and has a two-year-old son. From where she was to where she is now is her testimony—one she deems as “God’s story.” 

“When you are vulnerable and transparent, the more you open up and share, the more God does. I want people to know that it’s not always a straight and narrow path. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and just deal with what you’re handed,” she said.  

Breaking Barriers 

Homelessness is not respectful of any one type of person. Many young adults and teens who find themselves on the street do not have familial support. Much is often rooted in conflict, but other contributing factors include poverty, housing insecurity, racial disparity, and mental health and substance abuse disorders. 

According to Katy Falk, youth rapid rehousing manager at One80 Place, youth who come through the homeless shelter’s doors have a history of DSS involvement, come out of the system, or are kicked out of their homes. The barriers they face are different than an adult because they lack employment history, credit history, rental history, education or career experience.  

Last year, One80 Place began a youth-specific program. In the first year, they housed 44 young people and plan to further expand. 

One80 Place offers access to a nurse, psychologist, substance abuse counseling, and other community resources to help homeless youth be successful. They graduate when they are able to sustain housing on their own. 

Current students facing potential homelessness should reach out to Jon Davis, the campus minister, and Clark Carter, dean of students. Together, they can find resources to assist and house the student in a safe environment. 

Related Stories

Melinda Gorsky studying abroad in Jamaica, playing bongo and tambourine with a young boy. Gorsky practices music therapy abroad

Gorsky practices music therapy abroad

Melinda Gorsky’s study abroad trip to Jamaica this summer included working in ...

| READ MORE: Gorsky practices music therapy abroad
CSU Board of Trustees upearthing the ground that will hold the newest wing to the Health Science building CSU breaks ground on health science building expansion

CSU breaks ground on health science building expan...

Charleston Southern University broke ground for a health science building wing o...

| READ MORE: CSU breaks ground on health science building expansion