Homeless college students need our help
His message was “I need help.” His name was Michael. We never met him, but his words broke our hearts. He said he was in a situation where he had no breathing room and was suddenly homeless.
Directed to DSC counselors, hoping to get the help he needed, Michael’s problem ─ one faced by thousands of students across the nation ─ finally hit home at Daytona State College, a community fixture in a county that has long sought to deal with the issue of homelessness.
Michael’s dilemma certainly won’t be the last.
Engaging in conversations with students on campus, we learned that many are living in transitional housing or are homeless, need transportation and are often hungry. The Free Application for Student Aid estimates there are approximately 58,000 homeless college students in the United States. And they are from every demographic.
A 2015 Annual Report by the Council on Homelessness reveals that about 15,000 young people age out of foster care every year in Florida. Some 71,446 children and youth in Florida school districts are homeless or in unstable housed situation. Clearly, we must do a better job at rectifying this problem.
There are a number of factors contributing to the growing homeless population on college campuses. Aging out of foster care, domestic abuse, job loss, relationship issues and chaotic family situations are just a few. In colleges with dorms, during holiday and summer breaks, students who don’t have family are often left with nowhere to go until classes resume.
Homeless students struggle in every area, burdened by their situation. Sometimes they have to decide between eating and purchasing textbooks. They face challenges when applying for financial aid, registering for classes and trying to complete their education.
The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth provides assistance and advocates for students. The organization reported on their website, naehcy.org, “The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 includes new components that will directly assist homeless students’ transition to higher education… and improve their readiness for college. Unaccompanied homeless youth are informed of their status as independent students for college financial aid.”
Some students are finding help, such as Fred Barley, a 19-year-old student in Georgia. Barley’s story filled the news and lit up social media.
According to the Herald-Gazette, in July 2016, Barley “rode six hours on a 20-inch bicycle from Conyers to Gordon’s campus with nothing but a duffle bag, a tent, a box of cereal and two gallons of water. He wanted to be sure he made it to town in time for school with enough time to find a job.” Classes would not start until August, so he pitched a tent on the campus grounds.
Fortunately for Barley, police officers helped him by paying for a hotel room for two nights. His story spread on social media and a GoFundMe account was set up, which raised $150,000 to aid his situation.
We applaud recent efforts by School of Humanities and Communication professor Frank Gunshanan to help the homeless on campus. Last year, he set up a mentorship program and other services to assist. To better serve the needs of the College’s homeless student population, as well as students facing homelessness, the project proposes to create a centralized hub/food bank in which students can better access services offered by the College, as well as the community, ranging from housing to financial to food assistance. While targeting the homeless specifically, the hub will help increase retention of all students by helping them to avoid crises related to homelessness that prevent them from focusing on academics.
For his efforts on behalf of the College’s most vulnerable population, the English professor recently received The Faculty Senate Community Service Outreach Award, bestowed on faculty demonstrating exceptional service and outreach to the local community. Gunshanan remains dedicated to eliminating barriers to success among the College’s homeless student population.
DSC’s Vice-President of Student Development, Keith Kennedy said, “The Center for Women & Men provides several direct services that are beneficial to all students, including homeless students.”
Kristofer Bailey, at DSC’s Center for Women and Men, said, “We identify barriers and help point students where they can get the assistance they need. Such assistance includes: the new Falcon Fuel Pantry; which provides light snacks free to students, up to three per day; a clothes closet; bus passes; a book loan library; computer labs; and printers. When a student is homeless, and it can be determined that more assistance is needed, we provide more, such as toiletries and more substantial food. Students who can prove they live in a shelter, such as the Salvation Army, can receive waivers to help with tuition.”
For more information about services available to homeless students at DSC, contact the Homeless Student Coordinator, Beth Hoodiman, at email@example.com or Keith Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although much more can and should be done to assist homeless students in their battle to overcome the vicious cycle of poverty, In Motion believe the efforts currently underway and those still in the making, are a good start in the right direction.
Article originally posted at DSC In Motion.