Homeless for a Home
*The writer requested to remain anonymous
I returned to the Netherlands last February, filled with excitement and expectations. Having previously studied in Amsterdam, I felt connected to the country, and I knew what awaited me. However, this time around, there was no scholarship to keep me financially safe, only an unconventional plan: since my arrival, I have been sleeping in numerous friends' living rooms, alternating houses every month. Homelessness has become a requirement to pursue graduate school within my limited budget, with the hope of a future different than the one my home country has to offer.
I am from Venezuela, a country that has been hitting the headlines worldwide since March 2017. Following years of political turmoil, the Supreme Tribunal ruled in favor of assuming all constitutional powers from the opposition-controlled National Assembly. By the time the Constitutional Chamber annulled this decision, the indignant civil society had taken hold of the streets in protest. Violent repression followed, and after 100 days of demonstrations, over 100 Venezuelans had died in confrontations with national armed forces. In August 2017 President Maduro inaugurated the fraudulently elected Constituent Assembly, causing outrage in the population and international community alike. The President of the European Parliament condemned the election of the constituent assembly. Venezuelans now find themselves subjected to a new body, entirely controlled by government supporters, that has declared itself to outweigh the powers of any individual or institution, including the head of state.
Beyond the political turmoil lies a humanitarian crisis: food and medicine are scarce; violent crime is rampant; and the economy reaches new lows every week. According to the Documentation and Social Analysis Center of the Venezuelan Teachers' Federation (CENDAS-FVM), a five-person household requires the equivalent of more than 14 minimum wages to cover the basic nutrition expenses. Leading a normal or safe life has become unsustainable. The chances of a career or a future in Venezuela? Close to zero.
My journey back to Europe required me to go beyond my known limits: I worked harder than I had before; I had to ask for help I thought I would never have to; I even broke the law. For over a year, I spent between 60 to 72 hours a week working at a factory in the American Midwest. I had never been more aware of physical and mental fatigue in my life and I had never felt as exploited. I worked as an undocumented migrant with full knowledge of all the risks involved. But I had a goal, and I was set on giving myself the best possible chance.
Fast forward to my current life in Amsterdam, I find it not too different from the last time. I am, however, much older, and I sense that the last two years have deeply changed me: the hoops I have had to jump through to find my way back make me feel strong and resentful, perhaps in equal measure. Strong for being able to get here; for working as hard as I did; for not losing sight of my goal, nor the will to keep moving forward. Resentful of the inequality I face because I do not have a European passport: my tuition fees are eight times higher than the standard; I am basically unable to work on a student visa; and I still hear the ticking clock telling me that unless I succeed in securing a “high-skilled” migrant job after my studies, I will be back in Venezuela.
This inequality has also resulted in homelessness. I am incredibly fortunate to count on the friends who host me without asking for anything in return. In practice, it feels like a never-ending holiday visit but with the responsibilities of daily life, including my graduate education. It is not always easy, putting a strain on the lives of those who are helping me: I cannot avoid being in the way sometimes, invading a space that I have no claim over.
There is no doubt I live a privileged reality of homelessness. One that allows me to navigate the academic world of my studies and live comfortably in the homes of my hosts, while keeping my mind firmly set on what is to come: the day I will stop needing such help. Perhaps the biggest downside has been rescinding my privacy, something that I currently do not begrudge, since I know it is a small price to pay for being where I want to be.
Of course, there are moments when I long for more comfort, which makes me question the decision of coming back to Europe and living in these conditions. The answer often varies slightly, but I always land on the same resolution: wanting to be part of the European project. I have found a home where my identity can thrive: as an outsider; as a queer man; and as a believer in social justice. A place that offers me acceptance and validation, like Amsterdam, is where I wish to call home.
I am betting all I have on this one moment in Europe. I just hope it pays off.