Looking for an open door: Story of a homeless OU student

By Rory McCarty

By Rory Mccarty

Senior Reporter

Photo Credit: RORY MCCARTY/The Oakland Post

Aricka Shuck is a student at Oakland University. She’s working towards a degree in theater and she has only one semester left before she can graduate. But Aricka said that for the last year she’s been too sick to work or attend school. However, she has a bigger problem:

Aricka is homeless.

The last six years and a series of medical disasters led Aricka and her family to find it impossible to get jobs, to be evicted from two different houses and to be unable to afford necessities like medication.

The family’s problems started in 2002 when her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of intestinal cancer and had to undergo surgeries to remove sections of her intestines. She said her father began spending so much time at the hospital with his wife that he lost his job.

A year and half later they had lost their home. Aricka said that for six weeks she was

homeless, sleeping on friends’ couches.

Aricka said shortly thereafter her father managed to get a job and the whole family had moved into a new house. Aricka was taking care of her mother in her free time and they seemed to be getting their lives back on track.

Aricka’s father has had prostate cancer, a pulmonary embolism, cadiac arrhythmia and a staph infection over the last two years. The staph infection, he said, arose from an unclean IV while he was undergoing prostate surgery.

Her mother also has scoliosis and was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to Aricka.

Aricka was on the verge of tears when she recalled having to care for her parents as they went through their medical difficulties.

“It was strange watching my parents turn into children. It’s like a role reversal,” Aricka said.

At that point, Aricka and her family were once again out of a house and without the money to afford food.

“We got to the point where we were eating saltines with ketchup on them,” Aricka said.

While her family now qualifies for food stamps, they are running out of the money they need to afford medication, toiletries and gas.

Aricka’s mother and father have had difficulty in finding jobs in the current economy.

Aricka’s father said he has worked jobs as Senior Vice President for Britannica.com and as director of delivery management for Gedas, an IT provider for the automotive and manufacturing industries. Currently he is applying for a job as a truck driver.

“You can’t get anyone to get back to you,” he said.

Aricka’s younger brother Nick, now 20 years old, has applied for 24 jobs but has not yet been hired, and her father cannot work many jobs due to his lasting medical conditions.

“I’ve driven down Adams just looking for ‘Help Wanted’ signs,” Nick said.

“The hole just gets dug so deep you can’t get out of it. Everything’s a catch-22,” Aricka said. She pointed to the example of her father wanting to drive to job interviews but being unable to afford the gas to drive to them.

With homeless shelters filled to capacity, the Shucks had few options left open to them; they ended up living at an extended stay Red Roof Inn. So Aricka started a Facebook group to ask for donations so that her family could pay their rent and buy basic necessities.

The response, Aricka said, has been overwhelming.

“The compassion I see in people has definitely restored my faith in humanity,” Aricka said.

“It’s been overwhelming to know people care that much. Some people only send $5, but you can’t believe how much that can help.” She said she could use that $5 to feed her cat and dog, who she considers part of her family and said that she wouldn’t be willing to move into a shelter if they didn’t allow her pets to come with them.

But while the Shucks have the support of a community on their side, it hasn’t changed

their fortunes just yet. Two weeks ago, Aricka’s mother and brother got into a car accident. Shuck said that while her family survived the accident unharmed, the car, their last asset, was totaled.

“Everybody says we had an angel in the car or something,” Aricka’s mother said.

All of the stress and chaos of her life may be exacerbating Aricka’s own medical problems.

She said she has been sick for the last two or three years, undergoing surgeries in the past year to have her gallbladder and appendix removed.

But she says the hospital still doesn’t know what’s making her sick. She said she throws up four or five days out of the week and experiences abdominal pain. Aricka said there’s a chance she could have the same abdominal tumors that plagued her mother.

However, she’s had plenty of support in getting through her illness. Her former neighbor, Hadi Alzawad, had known her only a couple of weeks but regularly visited Aricka in the hospital. Aricka was discharged from the hospital with her problem still undiagnosed.

But most recently they’ve had an incredible amount of help in the form of the Mades family. The Mades family heard about the Shucks’ Facebook through a mutual friend. They offered to let the Shucks stay with them, pets and all.

“We both felt compelled that something had to be done,” Doug Mades said. Remarkably, Mades has also been unemployed for two years. But he says that by living lean and cutting back, they’ve managed to get by on savings.

The holidays for the Mades and Shuck family will probably be lean too, as they said that there won’t be any gift exchanging “other than hugs and kisses.” But Aricka said that things are bad for everyone due to the poor economy.

“Being homeless isn’t just for bums. You can do everything right and still end up in this position,” Aricka said. Her mother said it’s not good for people to be judgmental of the homeless.

The Shuck family is still getting support through their Facebook site, “Aricka Shuck Family Fundraiser.” They are optimistic that in spite of everything that’s happened to them that when the economy starts to turn around they’ll be able to take their lives back.