The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The story of Drey Aguirre: Homelessness is a product of the systemic issues of today

Photo by Kayt Vallis

A girl has a child with a boy from high school at the age of 16. Her father; absent. Her mother; abusive.

The child of that high school girl now grows up in a family with an alcoholic, verbally abusive and adulterer father. He works to support the family. The mother has two other children. 

This family is unstably housed, thus moving consistently throughout the children’s lives, across California.

The father attempts suicide in the first child’s summer of senior year in high school after an argument with the mother. The mother finds her husband and calls 9-1-1. He survives. She decides to take that opportunity to leave with her children, choosing to continue moving consistently to keep a distance from her husband.

This first child of that family ends up homeless later in life. Not because of any perceived mistake or misjudgment on his behalf, but simply because he did not want to burden his mother any further than what she had been through already. 

He lived in men’s homes, rested on park benches, sought out places to survive, if only for a day.

Several years of unstable and unsafe housing later, his mother moved to Oregon with his younger sisters. He decided to live with them for a time. However, his mother was now married to another partner who was also abusive, so he struck out on his own again.

Eventually, he found work as a farmhand and soap-maker at the Bend Soap Company. He got to live and work on this farm. Perhaps not “homeless” in the classic sense with tents and sleeping bags, but homeless in that this place wasn’t “home.” 

People may think of homelessness as a person failing in life. A mistake a person made that led to them not having money or being evicted from their homes. It can be easier that way, to see the one “inciting incident” and decide that’s what did it. But, is that true?

This person was born from a mother without stellar examples for how a father was meant to be and a father who was abusive and had mental health conditions. Support systems were not in place for either of them. He never got to experience a healthy family structure.

He left his home because of good intentions. For his mother’s sake. Not because he gambled his money away, not because he had a drug problem, but because his mom had simply been through enough.

This person is Drey Aguirre, the newly elected president of the Associated Students of Central Oregon Community College (ASCOCC). He is currently in the process of getting certified to be a community health worker and working toward completing the nursing program at COCC.

Aguirre spoke to The Broadside and told his story. 

Aguirre is 33-years-old, has been homeless for 15 years and has experienced a broad spectrum of homeless life. From sleeping in cars, tents, to renting rooms for brief periods, to now living in a camping trailer on a friend’s property. 

“I barely have electricity,” Aguirre said. “I don’t have my basic necessities taken care of.” 

Aguirre spoke about how the utilities at COCC were integral in maintaining hygiene and spoke about the importance of hygiene, especially for people in the homeless community. Not only for job-seeking, but also for mental health. 

“It’s hard if [the homeless community] doesn’t have access to [hygiene facilities] or things like that, the motivation just drops and all these mental health issues start to arise,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre explained that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been invaluable for him regarding food resources. The biggest problem he faces is stable housing.

He lives on his friend’s property, which makes his friend his landlord. There’s a power dynamic imbalance between Aguirre and his landlord. Circumstances arose where Aguirre had to care for the property alone, attend school, and come straight back to the property. This went on for an extended period of time, without compensation. 

“It [was] hard on my mental health, because I’m already isolated,” Aguirre said. “I’m used to it, but it’s starting to affect me more… it messes with you, loneliness, depression, anxiety, all these different things start to come into play… I feel that we are all created to be in community with each other.”

Aguirre mentioned that he has been living there for 5 years and is just trying to find a better situation, but that it’s been one of the more difficult things in his life currently, trying to find this stable housing. 

As Aguirre spoke about his goals and his life, his focus continued to be on other people and finding ways he could help. From deciding to leave his family to lessen their burden as an 18-year-old, to today, with his efforts in advocacy and plans to change policies with hopes that other people won’t need to struggle the way he did.

“One of the reasons I’m [taking] this Community Health Worker class [is] because I am a student advocate, but I’m also an advocate for people. How can I help educate different organizations to change their policies to accept, learn, and be more culturally humble and competent? Especially [for] the LGBTQIA+ community, who are really underserved in healthcare. And, obviously, undocumented people and people of color [who] also have issues or struggle with it,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said that he didn’t originally come to school with this goal in mind, but “opportunities to help” popped up and he couldn’t help but pursue them.

Photo by Kayt Vallis

In regards to ASCOCC, Aguirre wants to put a focus on mental health because of his family history. 

“I want to make sure students are heard and [ask], ‘What is going to help your success, your mental health, your growth?’,” Aguirre said.

While the fact that COCC is a small 2-year community college is true, Aguirre has a lot of goals he hopes to accomplish while he’s here.

“[We need] to keep moving forward. We’re going to hit barriers, let’s go through,” Aguirre said. 

The most important thing Aguirre hopes for people to take away from his story is that it’s not just him. There are countless other people going through different paths in life to end up homeless. There’s value in educating one’s self on homelessness and there’s value in pushing for understanding. 

“I want to make sure it’s not just ignored anymore. There are people in your community that are struggling. Don’t ignore them,” Aguirre said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Broadside Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *