Homeless on Campus

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
opportunities.
Elizabeth Dwoskin

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Homeless
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