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This Homeless College Student Is Close To Finding A Home Of His Own

Bill Zeeble
Denzel Bailey hasn't lost his passion for graduating college and teaching history. But a drive for his own place is a tempting milestone now that he's earning enough money to afford it.

We met Denzel Bailey, a UT-Arlington student, a year ago. He's a homeless student in college. He spent the summer with his grandparents in south Fort Worth. Bailey is entering his senior year – and trying to balance work and school, while hoping to find a place he can call home.

Bailey is 21 and on track to graduate next spring with a degree in history.  He may take longer, though. He’s working full time this summer at a check-cashing business. They want him permanently, and he’s tempted. 

“I mean, this is the biggest paycheck, I mean, never thought I would see a paycheck this big. It sounds crazy,” Bailey says. “I mean, of course I plan to have bigger paychecks, but it’s interesting to see a paycheck stub with my name on it with that amount.”

Bailey’s making about $10 an hour working. He works up to 50 hours a week. He especially loves making overtime. The business is opened 24/7 so there are a lot of opportunities to work. He’s got a dilemma.

“It’s like OK, do we put school ... not on the backburner, but do we put it side by side with, you know, working?” Bailey wonders. “Because that’s the thing with this new job. They want me to stay. My boss really likes me. She wants me to move up. She’s always saying ‘I have big plans for you, big plans for you.’ But then I would have to cut down on school, you know, maybe stick to two classes, three classes, definitely not full-time.”

Bailey’s also makes money through an events business called Aeronotiqz he runs with a partner.  They present fashion shows and rap concerts, not just in Texas, but in other states. Sometimes, he doesn’t just produce the events, he performs as a rapper. He calls himself Dizzi Davis. Once he experienced hip-hop, he was hooked, even though it was a no-go while living with his grandmother. But he stuck with it. He says it’s all about expressing himself.

Bailey often raps about where he grew up and where he went to high school,  Fort Worth’s Northside High.

His parents never went to college. His mom and dad separated long ago. Both struggled with drugs and jail. That’s how he ended up homeless. He still managed to finish high school and get into college.

Lisa Hatfield has faith he’ll graduate despite the job temptation. She works for Boys and Girls Clubs and has known Denzel since he was 15.

“He’s very interesting, very driven, self-motivated,” Hatfield says. "He’s probably the most self-motivated person I’ve ever met.”

Bailey is multilingual, speaking Spanish and some Portuguese. He wants to teach English overseas and is considering the Peace Corps.

Eventually, he wants to be back in high school teaching history.  A starting teacher salary in North Texas is about $45,000. That’s a lot more than he’s earning now.

“That would be alright to me,” Bailey says. “I know some people say teachers don’t make a lot of money. But I saw my mom survive, and she never made -- I’m not even sure -- half that.”

It’s more than just the money. For Bailey, a decent salary would let him afford his own apartment.   

“That would be huge,” he says. “It’s difficult to picture me having my own place. That I make the rules and I’m responsible for everything.”

For a long time, Bailey felt he had no control, no power. With an apartment, that would change.

“They might say that’s pressure, but pressure makes diamonds," he says. "I would be very, very excited about it. And that’s part of manhood and growing up and being an adult. So, it would be one of those milestones.”

It's a milestone he’s confident he’ll reach. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.