Living in rags. Battling hunger and poverty. Those are some ways to define homelessness.

But Dennis Barton, Sophia Worrell and Nazima Ali would argue that these words do not define a homeless person.

“There is a story to that lump of rags that you see sleeping on the street,” said Barton, “We want to humanize homelessness because we all know the stereotypes.”

Barton, Worrell and Ali were once homeless, each for a different reason. Barton was a drug addict and Worrell and Ali were victims of domestic abuse. On Oct. 19 in Fairfield University’s Egan Chapel, these survivors shared their stories.

These are the stories that you do not see on  the face of a homeless person, and these are the stories that led them to homelessness.

Ali’s husband was an alcoholic and hit her whenever he had too much to drink.

“I thought, ‘I can’t have my daughter grow up in an abusive environment, then she will think that it’s ok for men to hit her’,” she said. That was the day that Ali took her children, left and started a new life with the help of a homeless shelter.

Worrell had a similar story; she could not escape the rage of an abusive relationship.

“He promised me the world,” but instead all he gave her were brutal beatings. One day she was pushed too far, forcing her to find the courage to leave the abusive relationship.

“I would rather live on the street,” said a bitter Worrell. But she was not on the streets for long before she found a homeless shelter that supported her and helped her to get back onto her feet again.

Barton shared a different story: “I had a cocaine habit, and it got the best of me.”

This habit robbed Barton of his family and his home. His new home became a jail cell. “My drug of choice told me that it was okay.”

After being released from jail, Barton sought help for his addiction. Through drug rehabilitation and help from mentors at homeless shelters, Barton was able to reclaim his life, noting, “I no longer live on the streets.”

His story, so different from the typical suburban life, shocked many of the Fairfield students. But most found Barton to be inspirational.

“There is no such thing as too far gone,” remarked Emma Cannon ’14.

Each story that was told reveals a reason for why homelessness is still an issue within America today. But by listening to the stories of Barton, Worrell and Ali, Fairfield students were able to put a face to homelessness.

“Their stories showed a different side to homelessness,” said Nicole Shagoury ‘12. “They told us about the different reasons for homelessness and that because of these reasons we shouldn’t stereotype.”

Barton encouraged students to avoid stereotyping, but he also implored the Fairfield University community to consider something else: the story that each life tells.

“When you look into that person’s face, remember that there is a story behind it,” said Barton.

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