The Long Road from Homelessness to Hopefulness
I kind of stick out on campus. I am more than twice the age of most students. You will always see me with my service dog, Eddie, a little Chihuahua often quite fashionably dressed. There was a time when I would not have been so comfortable standing out in the crowd. I didn’t really value myself enough to believe that anyone else did.
I grew up in a devout Mormon family in San Diego. Being a righteous leader and father was expected, being gay was not. At 19, I served as a missionary in Louisiana and then married and had two daughters. (One is getting married next month, and the other is graduating high school.) It was a search for personal integrity that led me to a reckoning with God. He told me, “I made you and love you as you are, you must accept and love yourself and give that same love to others.”
Coming out was a huge relief ... which was followed by a difficult divorce, the loss of my children and being shunned by my family. But I was finally true to myself. That didn’t make me happy, though, and I didn’t feel accepted by “my community.” I eventually fell into a deep depression and gave up on life.
After becoming homeless and losing everything, I found a savior in a social worker. She gave me acceptance, met me where I was and got me into shelter. With that stability, I was able to work on my mental health and finally learn to accept and love myself. I finished an associate’s degree and started working as a peer counselor in a residential program for people with severe mental illness.
It was so rewarding that I thought I should go to San Diego State University for a degree in social work, which required 22 more units of coursework before I could transfer. After completing that with a 3.6 GPA, they turned me down. Luckily, I applied to San Francisco State in communication studies (because San Francisco was the only other city I would live in) without knowing anything about how special SF State really is.
In the process, I turned those extra units into another associate’s degree in social work and realized that I was more dedicated to social justice than to client service. San Diego City College was a special place for social justice but pales in comparison to how interwoven social justice is at SF State. The opportunities I have had to learn about power and oppression and apply that knowledge to real research have been amazing. I am especially proud of research I’m doing into racism within sexual attractions and its effect on society — research I hope to continue with a master’s degree in communication studies.
Now I make a difference as a student leader in Associated Students, SF State’s student government organization. Being able to hear students and advocate for their needs, share these issues with the CSU chancellor and Board of Trustees and work on those issues with student leaders throughout the state makes me believe that I can really make a difference in this world. It only could have come from San Francisco and SF State. There is no place like it in the world.
In addition to being Associated Students’ vice president, external affairs, Garrick Wilhelm is a political activist and an office assistant and teacher at San Francisco’s Community Miracles Center.