Jeremiah Jobe works toward new, better life

Editor's Note: Hunger gnaws. Pain is acute. Shame is seen. An economic recession
May 24, 2010


Editor's Note:

Hunger gnaws. Pain is acute. Shame is seen.

An economic recession equals a homeless population less hidden and looking more like a cross-section of us.

The Homeless but Hopeful project is a yearlong series of stories about the American Dream lost. It documents the lives of local homeless people struggling to overcome the past and claw their way toward a better future.


Imagine a college student whose dorm is the local homeless shelter, whose cafeteria is the local soup kitchen and who writes term papers from Sandusky's streets.

Meet Jeremiah Jobe.

Jobe, 24, is pursuing an online college degree in business, with a focus on energy initiatives. He carries around a Toshiba laptop. He reads Scientific American religiously. He loves satirical author Douglas Adams.

But he spends his nights at Crossroads Homeless Shelter, with no money, no car, unpaid debts and an uncertain future.

Jobe takes full responsibility for his situation.

"Being homeless is my own fault," he says. "I've made a series of not-so-great decisions. I think that's the story for most homeless people: A series of not-so-great decisions."

According to the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., about 840,000 homeless, or 28 percent of the total homeless population, have received some education beyond high school.

But Martha Burt, a principal research associate at the Urban Institute, said Jobe's situation of pursuing higher education while homeless is unusual.

She said homeless college students used to be almost non-existent, but the recession has made it difficult for college students to find jobs.

Combine that with their parents' financial struggles, and homelessness in college students has become a small phenomenon.

Burt says statistics on homeless college students don't exist, because no one thinks they're worthy of study, but it's undoubtedly a growing population.

"There is a very low awareness level amongst colleges," says Barbara Duffield, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. "Once state and federal responsibility to homeless kids stops--at the end of high school--it's as if they cease to exist. They fall off the map.

"People have this 'you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps' myth about college. There is a real gap between the myth and the reality for those who are trying to overcome poverty by getting an education."

Originally from Norwalk, Jobe and his family moved to small-town Iowa when he was a teenager.

Bright but immature, he earned a reputation in Audobon, Iowa -- population 2,300 -- as rebellious and clownish.

"I was 20, but I had the mind of a 15-year-old," Jobe says.

Jobe was never arrested as a juvenile, but at age 20, police caught him stealing change from unlocked cars on the street.

According to Audobon County court records, he was charged with more than a dozen counts of petty theft, but pleaded guilty to five counts of burglary and one count of theft and spent three years in prison.

Jobe said his reputation as a young troublemaker -- in a town where everyone knows everyone -- led to the harsh penalty.

"Three years in prison for $3," he said quietly, his eyes peering at the ground. "I guess it probably straightened me out."

Jobe thought he'd get a fresh start once released from prison. But he found out people don't forgive and forget so easily.

"You think you paid your debt to society by serving your prison time," said Jobe, who struggled to find a job upon his release. "It doesn't work like that."

Although his mother and stepfather have a thriving waste-hauling business, Jobe doesn't go home. He feels he brings shame to his family, especially considering the size of the town.

"I've burned bridges ..." he says, trailing off. "I don't like to pry into their lives. They've got a nice life."

In terms of the future, all Jobe wants to do is build solar panels. He talks about solar panels and their inverters and photovoltaic arrays like they're yesterday's baseball game.

Whenever the subject arises, his blue eyes twinkle with excitement, and that passion is only occasionally hidden by strands of shaggy blonde hair drooping down over his eyes.

Jobe says he's already put together a small business plan to build solar panels, and thinks the country must focus on sustainability.

"Green initiatives are America's future," he says. "I was saying that even back during the Bush administration. We've got to be progressive."

But the odds of turning around his life are against him. More than 40 percent of men released from prison today return within three years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Furthermore, the University of Phoenix hasn't told him whether he qualified for financial aid.

"They started me in classes before the paperwork had even been processed," he says. "So there's a real chance I could end up owing them $2,000."

He has other financial problems, too. His license is suspended until he can pay back a $700 "no insurance" ticket in Iowa. He says he was driving a friend's car and didn't know where the insurance was.

Although he brought the insurance to the clerk of courts the next day as the police officer instructed, he missed his court date thinking the matter was settled. The ticket is still outstanding.

Adding to his troubles, he may not have a place to sleep by mid-September.

Jobe is living in the emergency shelter wing of Crossroads, which has a maximum stay of 90 days.

But with almost eight weeks of his stay elapsed, time is running out to plan his next move.

He hopes to get into the shelter's transient housing program -- which guarantees a room for two years -- but Sondra Anderson, the director of homeless services, said Jobe must show progress in his job search and self-determination to earn entry into that program.

"It's a step toward permanent housing, so we have to see those things," she said. The two have agreed to sit down and discuss his situation in the coming weeks.

Jobe admits he doesn't have a plan if the 90 days elapse and he can't get a room. Nonetheless, he's resolute he will get back on his feet, find a job and own his solar panel business one day.

"I'm going to do it," he said. "I'm not going to stop until I succeed."


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