They’re not asking for handouts. Most have one or two jobs, many have children and many spent their youth in foster care. All are in school, working to improve their lives. Many have insecure housing and food situations — or they are hungry and homeless altogether. Few receive government assistance. They are students who need help.
“’Homeless college student’ seems like a contradiction in terms,’” Wayne State University Psychology Professor Paul Toro told the New York Times. Toro studies poverty and homelessness. “If you’re someone who has the wherewithal to get yourself into college, well, of course, you should be immune to homelessness. But that just isn’t the case.”
Wisconsin HOPE Lab released a study in March 2017 that surveyed students at 70 community colleges in 24 states. The findings showed as many as 13% of community college students might be homeless and more may live dangerously close to losing shelter. The survey was the largest ever to ask whether students’ inability to fulfill fundamental needs may affect overall retention rates.
If you’re concerned about where or how you’ll find a balanced meal for you and your child, your biology homework becomes a lower priority. Large numbers of students manage to stay in school despite grumbling stomachs — at least for a while.
Of the 33,000 students surveyed:
- 51% had been close to losing housing in the past 12 months
- 14% had been homeless in the past 12 months
- 60% had experienced either low or very low food security
- 36% had been hungry but unable to eat because there wasn’t money for food
- 43% had eaten less than they felt they should because there wasn’t enough money for food
- 60% couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals
Addressing the problem
Awareness that these students are present and prevalent on campus is step one. The next step is finding ways to help them not only access assistance but also stay in school and build brighter futures. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab study authors note that, even if students are eligible for subsidized housing, shortages mean they might not find shelter via these routes. Rather, the best bet for fulfilling these students’ needs may come from helping them apply for Pell Grants and federal loans. Even those who already have financial aid and jobs could benefit from another grant. Some students might qualify for the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Students without children will need to demonstrate they work 20 hours a week to receive this form of aid. Unfortunately, cuts to Temporary Aid to Needy Families and other forms of childcare support mean such programs are no longer available.
A final option: the College and University Food Bank Alliance reports 400 campuses have fully-functional food pantries. If yours doesn’t have one, consider starting one up. What a great way to bring even more community to your campus.