Grad escapes homelessness, helps recovering addicts

Jeffrey Reams will earn his degree in human development Dec. 10 at WSU Vancouver. Formerly homeless, Reams was inspired to help others get off the street through education.
Jeffrey Reams will earn his degree in human development Dec. 10 at WSU Vancouver. Formerly homeless, Reams was inspired to help others get off the street through education (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Reams).

Putting a history of drugs and homelessness behind him, Jeffrey Reams, 34, found the strength to get a college education and prepare to receive his degree in human development on Dec. 10 from Washington State University Vancouver.

“I always knew I wanted something different,” said Reams, who dropped out of high school at age 14. “But the opportunity seemed unrealistic.”

Kicked out of his grandmother’s home at 13 for using drugs, he went to jail several times. By the time he was 18, he was working in warehouses to make ends meet. When he couldn’t shake his drug addiction, he gave custody of his young daughters to his mother rather than losing them to foster care.

“I could never stay clean long enough to follow through with anything,” he said.

Reams with his daughters, Laili and Oceanna.
Reams with his daughters, Laili and Oceanna.

Higher ed uncovers hidden strengths

Homeless and hooked, Reams joined a rehabilitation program and moved into an addiction recovery home with strict clean and sober living rules.

“When I had been clean for three months, I realized I had a choice,” he said. “I could get another job in a warehouse or go back to school.”

At age 29, he registered at Clark College.

“I was terrified,” he said. “I believed I wasn’t good at school. I believed I had street smarts but that I wasn’t book smart.”

After his first few quarters of hard work, however, he discovered hidden strengths.

“The belief that I wasn’t smart enough was false,” he said. “I was excelling.”

Begins new job after graduation

His original interest was nursing, but helping recovering addicts is what really gave Reams purpose. An encounter with a WSU Department of Human Development alumnus and advisor led him to switch majors.

“When I first got clean, I had to have supervised visits with my kids at a nonprofit,” he said. But in his first semester at WSU, he got a job at that same organization; he also worked at a treatment center for boys suffering from addiction.

“Now, I can’t see myself doing anything other than helping people for a living,” he said. “I have a passion for giving back to the community that I took from for so long.”

Interested in addiction, crime and the policies that influence treatment, he has accepted a position as a recovery support specialist with Clark County jail’s re-entry and work center.

Success as leader, role model

“It feels good to be this close to graduating,” said Reams, who plans to welcome home his daughters after graduation. He’ll be the first person in his immediate family to earn a degree.

“My biggest obstacle in school has been believing in myself,” said Reams, who relied on a men’s support group to gain confidence.

His biggest educational milestone was being named president of the WSU Vancouver chapter of Kappa Omicron Nu, the national human sciences honor society, where he networked and planned events with peers and professors.

“I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to further my education and be a positive role model for my children,” he said.