Homeless College Students: Are We Addressing This Issue with the Same Vigor as Food Insecurity?

Jeffrey N. Waple,Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

August 14, 2019

Recently, during my weekly meeting with the chancellor at my university, he asked me how many homeless students we had on campus. He wanted to know if I was tackling this issue with the same vigor that I was using to address food insecurity. To be honest, I didn’t know how many homeless students attended our university, and no, I was not tackling this with the same vigor.  Not to my surprise, when I received my list of goals for the upcoming academic year from the chancellor, addressing the homeless student issues on our campus was at the top of the list.

I started off with doing research on the topic and I was quickly led to the website for the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. A recent survey of nearly 86,000 colleges students conducted this past fall by the Center found that homelessness affected 18% of the respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14% of those attending four-year institutions. The number who said they had experienced housing insecurity, such as difficulty paying rent, was much higher, at 60% among those attending two-year institutions, and at 48% for those enrolled in four year institutions.

I also found some great resources from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice including a basic needs assessment that can be used to address food and housing insecurity, a plethora of articles and an 18-page document that contains an annotated bibliography on the Basic Needs Insecurity Among College Students.

Another website that I found through my research was The National Center for Homeless Education, which offers several resources including legislation that has been adopted to support homeless students.

I found that there are two important pieces of legislation that exist to support colleges and universities in the development of support mechanisms for college students include the College Cost Reduction and Access Act and the Food Stamp Act. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act included provisions to make undergraduate and graduate education more affordable for aspiring social-impact professionals.  It also establishes that unaccompanied homeless youth qualify as independent students for purposes of federal financial aid.

The Food Stamp Act authorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the largest program in the U.S. domestic hunger safety net. SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.

With the recent explosion of food pantries being developed on college campuses across the nation and the financial resources being distributed to address food insecurity, I am wondering if we are tackling housing insecurity with similar focus and resources and what are some best practices that exist on our campuses to address this issue.

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