College student intentionally becomes homeless, lives off campus freebies
Patton Chambers may be the only college student who actively blogs about his underwear and ingrown toenails—all the while being homeless.
A senior at Auburn University, Chambers decided to forgo living in his apartment in order to experience the “homeless” lifestyle for the remainder of his college career. According to the 23-year-old, without the stress of working, homelessness has been the best decision he could have made.
"What could I do that would eliminate having to work, would open up big opportunities, and be a really fun, interesting experience for me?”
“What could I do that would eliminate having to work, would open up big opportunities, and be a really fun, interesting experience for me?” Chambers asked Campus Reform in an interview last week. The physical education major had just finished a run at the campus recreation center and was headed to class.
For Chambers, the decision to become homeless wasn’t necessarily a financial one—although he says he appreciates no longer being burdened by rent—but more of a personal experiment. When Chambers lived in his apartment, he rarely left. He says he is too “awkward” for college parties and didn’t do much dating before he gave up his permanent residency.
So Chambers wanted to “start fresh.” He wanted to leave his comfort zone and do things he’s never done before. And he also wanted to quit his job in the fast food industry.
“One of the reasons [to become homeless] was to get out of working,” Chambers told Campus Reform. “It was just stressful night after stressful night, and anytime I’m getting any kind of unnecessary stress put upon me, it’s total bull crap, and I don’t feel the need to put myself through that because it’s not necessary because if I don’t need stress, why am I having stress?”
“And that’s the big thing,” he said. “All I was really working for was money to pay for rent. Honestly, I would rather be homeless and not have to work. That would be a better life.”
Chambers said for years he worked at Chick-fil-a, and while he could take home as much chicken as he wanted each night, he was never on the same page as his coworkers.
Yet since becoming homeless—or “pansy homeless” as he calls his technology-filled lifestyle—Chambers has met more people, and unlike before, he works to establish deeper relationships with the people he comes into contact with whom he can engage in “quality” conversations.
“I figured the homeless thing, if anything, it would help my dating situation because if not anything else, it’s an icebreaker,” Chambers said, laughing. “Now I have better opportunities to make something happen.”
Of course, Chamber’s experiences have drastically changed, but he’s found that more change doesn’t always mean more challenge.
“For the most part, the university’s got dang good facilities everywhere you look,” he said. “People don’t really take advantage of them, they don’t really appreciate them, I don’t feel like, but they’re everywhere.”
From Sunday night to Friday afternoon, a corner of Auburn’s library transforms into Chamber’s bedroom. The library is open 24 hours during the week, and so far, the security guard hasn’t evicted the student. On the weekends, Chambers sleeps in a tent in the woods near campus.
Chambers found the library within the first week of his homelessness, and although he says the constant lighting is inconvenient when he tries to get some shut-eye, he says it’s better than the sleeping arrangements his first two nights.
A tent in the woods was his first home after his apartment. And while it has remained his sleeping arrangement for Friday and Saturday nights, Chambers dislikes the hike through the woods. He also didn’t have a sleeping pad that first night, which lowered his comfort level quite a bit.
The second night of his homeless experiment, Chambers became an explorer. The inquisitive Millennial found an abandoned apartment building near campus. A white truck in the parking lot almost deterred him, but Chambers overcame his fear and tried various unlocked doors until he found an apartment that wasn’t too dirty. But abandoned apartment buildings can be spooky at night, and with the weird feeling he had all night, Chambers, too, abandoned it.
Thus, the Ralph Brown Draughon Library—with its bookshelves creating hidden nooks, comfy chairs granting ideal nap spots, and computers providing unlimited entertainment—became his home for the majority of the week without any problems from school administrators.
“Initially, when I started this, I figured that Auburn University would be just like every other public place that you go to and they’re like super strict on the dumbest things like ‘oh, you can’t take a nap in here, that’s against policy’ and a bunch of crap like that,” Chambers said, gleeful over the fact that his school does not fit the stereotype. “They’re not the typical d-bag group of people that have a problem with everything someone does because it’s not the normal way to do things in life.”
In fact, Chambers, who is set to graduate in the spring of 2016, said he has gotten to know more Auburn faculty and staff than ever before. He boasted of one custodian’s cooking and generosity—he makes some mean meatballs for the staff and he’s offered to share his closet if Chambers ever needs additional storage.
But Chambers doesn’t believe in handouts.
“Everyone needs to realize that whatever happens in your life, you need to be accountable for it,” he said. “I get pissed off when people come to college and just expect a place to live, even though they’re not paying for it. If I’m not paying for a place to live, which I’m not, then why...should I have a place to live, and that’s when I was like, okay, I’m going to be homeless.”
Friends have offered him money, and professors have offered to buy his textbooks; Chambers has turned it all down. He said he’s against welfare and is strict on making sure he doesn’t accept anything he hasn’t earned.
For a homeless college student, Chambers isn’t struggling financially. After he made the decision to become homeless, he saved up his money from the last few weeks at his job. He sold his motorcycle—he walks or takes his bicycle everywhere he goes—and saved the inheritance money he received after the death of his grandfather.
Chambers also referees intramural football at Auburn. Every week he makes approximately $30, and every week he only spends one-third of that money.
Approximately half of Chambers’ college tuition is covered by student loans, but the 23-year-old has a strategy. After he graduates in two years, Chamber plans to teach English in South Korea for a couple of years while he pays off his debt.
While Chambers is technically homeless, his experiences aren’t that illustrative of what a homeless man outside of academia experiences. He watches movies on his iPhone (he’s still on his parents’ plan), he spends time selling items on E-bay, he goes to Auburn football games on Saturdays, he showers regularly in the rec center, and he even has health insurance for times when he needs to visit the doctor.
“I have access to everything,” Chambers said of his experience with being homeless. “I know where I’m going to sleep every night. I know what I’m going to eat every day. There’s never really any hard struggles.”
Chambers blogs about his all of his experiences on Tumblr, leaving nothing to the imagination. From posts about past relationships to updates on his ingrown toenails and chronicling the wear and tear of his single pair of underwear, Chambers has chronicled his entire experience.
Despite his consistent access to technology and the Internet, Chambers doesn’t keep up with news that isn’t Auburn-related.
“I know there’s something going on with Ebola, but I don’t know what the heck is going on with it,” he admitted.
Chambers let out a good-natured chuckle when he told Campus Reform that he was not even aware Election Day was in a few days, not that it would have mattered. Chambers strongly dislikes the government and has never voted, although he did come close to voting for Ron Paul once before he ultimately decided that the libertarian “would never get in because it’s rigged.”
With his own future still uncertain, Chambers is very optimistic about future opportunities that may stem from his social experiment.
“I don’t know what will come of this,” he said. “I want to see if my life gets better or worse, just anything. So far I think it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn