There is nothing common about the so-called 'college experience' in America. Some students drink so much each night that they wake up on their front stoops most mornings, not needing to work because their parents are footing the bill. Others take night classes. For others still, financial aid is not enough.
And some students are homeless. Professor Eleanor J. Bader writes about her former student Aesha, a 20-year old attending Kingsborough college in Brooklyn, New York for Progressive.org. Until the fall of 2003, Aesha lived with five people -- her one-year-old son, her son's father, her sister, her mother, and her mother's boyfriend -- in a three-bedroom South Bronx apartment. That is, until her son's father became physically abusive and she had to leave home. She slept on benches or in shelters and eventually confided in her professors in order to explain her periodic absences.
Aesha is one of forty-four students since 1999 that have received a LeTendre Grant from the LeTendre Education Fund for Homeless Children, a scholarship program administered by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Today she lives in a shelter. She wakes up at five o'clock in the morning to take her daughter to the apartment of a girlfriend in the Bronx, in order to make it to class by 7:00AM. If her university provided day care for young children, she might not have to spend between seven and eight hours each day on a train.
A disrupted or tumultuous home life is the most common reason for homelessness among young adult students. But sometimes, older students are also homeless. Antonio Francisco attends classes at the City University of New York in the evening, but on weekends, his classmate Lucia saw him asking for money on a corner in her neighbordhood in Queens.
Beth Kelly, a family service counselor at the Clinton Family Inn, a New York City transitional housing program run by Homes for the Homeless, explained that in any given semester, four or five household heads are in college. However, it is difficult to gauge just how many college students are homeless. She blames it on the state, which stops tracking students and gives up responsibility for homelessness after high school. Today, the median wage needed to pay for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is three times the federal minimum. The problem is likely to be more common in universities in urban areas, which are sometimes the least equipped to tackle it because many urban students commute and therefore do not require housing.
Often, homeless students do not seek help because they feel a stigma attached to their experiences. The shame is compounded by a belief that college students should 'cover their own costs,' said Jenn Hecker, the organizing director of the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. Hecker explained, 'What often comes through is shame. Such students usually try to blend in and are reluctant to disclose either their poverty or homelessness to others on campus,' she says.
Contact your local college and ask them if they have resources
to address homelessness, disruptions in family life, and day care
-- Elizabeth Dwoskin
Go there >>Homeless on Campus
- Homes for the Homeless
- National Campaign to End Homelessness and Hunger
- LeTendre Education Fund for Homeless Children
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