In my previous post I promised to return to the subject of college student homelessness and discuss what can and is being done to help college students who experience or are at risk for homelessness.
As a faculty member and PhD student at Virginia Tech, I wanted to see if I could find out about our University’s efforts first. Although I feel confident that the Dean of Students Office would offer help if a student made his or her challenges known, not much regarding resources is available online. In a 2013 VT News article about the 209 Manna Ministry, a food bank near campus for students experiencing food insecurity, the Dean of Students, Tom Brown, was quoted: “Occasionally, about once a year or so, we will identify a homeless student.” So, maybe student homelessness is too rare to have specific resources dedicated to this challenge, however I imagine that student homelessness is similar to homelessness at-large– it’s hard to identify and count people experiencing homelessness, so the most important thing is to make resources available, well publicized, and to the degree possible, reduce the stigma around accepting those resources. And, the 209 Manna Ministry, might be an excellent place to do just that!– food banks and other places providing food for people experiencing homelessness are often program intake points. A more recent article in the Roanoke times reports that the food bank serves about 12 students a week and has more than 50 students registered on its permanent role, about 10% of whom come to the pantry seeking items for their children. Based on the number of students served by the Manna Ministry and on the number of self-reporting students experiencing homelessness nation-wide, most colleges should probably have a well-publicized “Single Point of Contact” for students experiencing homelessness or other kinds of housing insecurity.
A single point of contact is one of the strategies recommended in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) resource, “Addressing Housing Insecurity and Living Costs in Higher Education: A Guidebook for Colleges and Universities.” The report discusses 13 high-level strategies for serving students who are experiencing housing insecurity, some of which seem like easy-to-implement, primarily administrative actions:
- Proactive, systematic outreach;
- Connect students with benefits, coordinating aid and partnering with other organizations that offer services to people experiencing homelessness;
- Allow students to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits on campus– I can’t find evidence online that you can use SNAP/EBT anywhere on campus at Virginia Tech.
Other solutions seem to be more complicated or require additional funding, but would make a big difference for students who are are at-risk for homelessness or already experiencing homelessness. Here are the last few strategies recommended by HUD PD&R:
- Ensure that financial aid is provided in time for students to secure housing (pay security deposits, etc)
- Provide emergency housing and housing during breaks for students who need it
- Provide emergency aid and microgrants (think emergency heating assistance)
- Provide financial literacy classes/programming and
- Coordinate/provide childcare.
All-in-all, a little could go a long way for a student at-risk for homelessness. Just one of these strategies might help them avoid homelessness all together, which can save them (and their children) from a host of consequences stemming from homelessness and involuntary mobility.