s August comes to an end, students across the country are packing their bags and preparing to transplant their lives to small dorm rooms and off-campus houses. Moving trucks are arranged, train seats secured, and plane tickets purchased.
Over a week ago, Gordon Wayne, BC ’23, packed his bag and left his home state for Chestnut Hill, as thousands of other undergraduates will be doing over the coming days. But he’s making the trip on foot.
Wayne, a member of the incoming transfer class, is walking from Caroline County, Va. to Boston College. The journey is over 500 miles long and is taking him more than two weeks to complete. He walks for more than 13 hours a day, carrying a roughly 40-pound backpack. It’s all in the name of raising awareness to end homelessness.
Over the past ten days, Wayne has been providing live updates about his walk on his Instagram account, @gordoncwayne. His Instagram stories document his time on the road, the pain that comes with walking that far every day, and the endless support that people have been sending him, all tagged with #bcvshomelessness. He’s quick to remind people that he’s not accepting any money to spend on himself as he walks. All he asks is that anyone who sees his story donates to the GoFundMe that he created for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
“[Homelessness] affects all ages, all sexes, all sexual orientations … ,” Wayne said. “I needed a way to gain attention for it. If I just made a post saying, ‘Let’s end homelessness,’ no one is going to care.”
Wayne describes himself as a spontaneous person. Though he graduated from Caroline High School with a 4.4 GPA, he said he was always getting into trouble with teachers by challenging their authority, which didn’t sit quite right with them.
His whole life, Wayne had his heart set on the University of Notre Dame for undergrad. When he didn’t get in, he applied to a few other places and ultimately decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh.
But before he could make it to Pitt’s campus, Wayne found himself displaced from his home. He moved in with a friend for a week, saved up some money, and bought a car to live in. After spending all of his money on the car, Wayne found himself with only $6 to his name.
“Having $6 is not pleasant,” he said.
Using receipts, Wayne would get one free meal from McDonalds that would carry him through the day.
“I would eat that one meal a day, work, like, a 10- or 12-hour shift at my local amusement park, and go sleep in my car,” he said. “I did that for about six weeks.”
With no one to cosign a loan and not enough gas to even feasibly make it to Pitt, Wayne tucked his college aspirations away and continued to save up money from the amusement park job.
“I was basically just on my own,” he said. “I didn’t really talk to anyone. I had some bad thoughts … because it seemed like everyone just left me for dead. That is what happened. I was screwed. How are you supposed to get out of that?”
Wayne said that being homeless is like throwing an infant into the ocean. The only way the infant would survive is if by some miracle, an animal just comes along and picks it up. For him to have the opportunity he has now is nothing short of a miracle, he says.
After six weeks of living in his car, Wayne realized the only way out of his situation was through school, and he enrolled in his local community college. He was initially a dependent student, meaning he wasn’t given financial aid from the school, but he managed to become an independent student with the help of an adviser. Wayne acquired 39 credits over two semesters, more than the maximum amount, he noted.
Wayne was in survival mode during that time. He would sleep for two hours a night, and every other second of the day he’d be working, catching up on school work, or researching schools to apply to. He knew he had to work his way out of this situation, or he’d be doomed.
“There was no other option,” he said. “It was either I made it now, or I was probably going to be dead or in jail. That’s what homelessness brings.”
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in Virginia, there are 5,975 people homeless on a given night. For every 10,000 people in the state, seven of them are homeless. In 2018, about 14 percent of those people were unsheltered.
“I still had a shelter,” Wayne said. “I had my car at least, which is better than nothing. Even so, there’s so many risks. I didn’t have a stable address to put down, so I was always worried about that. I was always worried about someone coming up to me and doing something bad because I was in random parking lots.”
Nationally, 17 out of every 10,000 people in America were homeless on a single night in the most recent point in time study, done in January 2019. These 567,715 people represent “every region of the country, family status, gender category, and racial/ethnic group,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Being homeless made Wayne a troubled sleeper, but the silver lining was that he had more time to do things. While Wayne was working toward amassing credits at his community college, he spent hours on his computer late at night sifting through schools that he could apply to. Eventually, he found a list of schools that meet full financial need, which was crucial because he didn’t have anyone to cosign a loan with him. BC was on the list.
Something felt right about BC, Wayne said. He applied and was eventually accepted as a member of a class of transfers where only 8 percent were admitted.
“Thank God I was one of them,” he said. “So many things have had to go right for me to just have a sliver of a chance at making something of myself. If any of these dominoes didn’t fall right, I wouldn’t have a chance at succeeding in life. I thank God everyday that I do.”
Now, Wayne is headstrong in his effort to finish his walk to Boston. With no real training, he set out ten days ago and has the blisters on his feet to prove it. While people have left comments on his Instagram shocked at the physical undertaking of this task, Wayne is unfazed.
“The only reason I’m able to still be walking today, or five days ago, is because I really want to help these people out,” he said. “They deserve to have a chance at life. We complain about little things, like wearing a mask, it’s too hot outside, my drinks are not cold enough, my coffee wasn’t made the right way. There’s people out there who would trade anything to have these luxuries for even one hour of their life.”
Wayne is quick to keep the attention on the cause he is walking for.
“This isn’t about me at all,” he said. “I’m a vehicle to gain attention for these people who actually need help. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
He urges anyone who offers to Venmo him to donate it to the GoFundMe instead, explaining that he would be much happier having nothing and giving everything to something he cares about.
As he walks, Wayne is mostly accompanied by his thoughts—his headphones broke early on—and he looks through his social media to stay motivated. While walking about a marathon a day is a daunting task, he said the main statement he repeats to himself is that he’ll die before he quits.
Wayne’s journey hasn’t been exactly safe, he explained, describing cars that pretended to swerve into him as he trekked down the shoulder of Route 1 in Virginia. But he said that having been homeless, he has no fear anymore.
“I’m not too scared of anything now. If a car got too close to me, I would act like I was about to fight the car, like flex at it,” he said. “If a car takes me out, it is my time to go. I died doing something that I believe is worth doing. I would do it all over again.”
For the most part, Wayne likes the support he’s gotten. It feels weird, he said—this time last year, he was living in his car with no support system. Now, he’s showered in support from students everywhere watching his walk and sending constant words of encouragement. Still, he urges the focus to not be on him, but on the people he is walking for.
“I’m just walking,” he said. “We walk every single day. Did you walk today? We’re doing the same exact thing. Nothing I’m doing is noteworthy or incredible. I’m just walking.”
The part that he loves most from the recent attention is when people donate to the GoFundMe or repost his story on their own social media, he said. There’s no goal he wants to reach—if he can help one person, it will have been worth it.
Though a lot can happen before he reaches Chestnut Hill, Wayne said he is hoping that he’ll make it to the end of his walk.
“I’m going to walk straight into Alumni field, and I’m going to lie down at midfield,” he said. “I’m just going to lay there for a while. That’s my plan.”
Photos Courtesy of Gordon Wayne