Cassandra Staton was homeless.  Today, she has her own home. Her two children are in her life. She said she calls herself one of the “strong survivors.”

On Monday night, her birthday, Staton shared her story with Elon students. A panel of speakers who have all seen the effects homelessness in some way spoke to a crowded McKinnon Hall at the Faces of Homelessness Panel.

“I wish I had enough time to tell you everything about my truth,” Staton said.   

Staton said she wanted to be respectful to students but wanted to share her story candidly, a story she said makes her strong.

“I was molested,” Staton said. “I had my whole innocence taken from me by two family members.” 

Staton gave birth to her first child at 16. She went on to develop a crack addiction and become a prostitute. She was married at 25 and then divorced. Staton said that her mental illness and addiction led her to become homeless. For years, she was couch-surfing after she lost custody of her two children. 

“I suffered in silence,” Staton said. “A lot of homelessness people do suffer in silence a lot.”

Before Staton told her story, speaker Kelvin Lassiter shared the five most common causes of homelessness: mental health, domestic violence, low-wages and underemployment, medical debt and lack of affordable housing.

David Pirtle, another panelist who had suffered from home insecurity, said he spent close to three-and-a-half years on the streets homeless after his mother died. He was 21 and suffered from depression. 

"One day when I looked up, and I was 38 years old," He said. 

Paola Kalb, an Elon senior and director of Elon’s Campus Kitchen, said it is easy to take home and food security for granted on Elon’s campus. She hoped the panel will help burst the "Elon Bubble" as panelists shared their real-world experience with students. 

“You’re not going to walk away from it sad,” Kalb said before the panel. “Hopefully, you walk away from it with a more grounded realistic perspective, but also empowered in the sense of knowing what solutions there are and how you as an individual can help promote those solutions.”  

This event was a part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Elon and was hosted by the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement and Campus Kitchen.

Campus Kitchen is also hosting the “5-for-1” food drive this week. From lunch on Monday to lunch on Friday, students can take five canned goods to any dining hall on campus in exchange for a free meal.