Homeless in college?

Being a college student is stressful. Pulling all-nighters, studying for final exams, typing 12-page term papers, and practicing for big presentations takes a lot of determination. Imagine doing those tasks in a homeless shelter by the dim light of a cracked-open bathroom door…now that’s dedication.

We were somewhat surprised to find out about this growing issue in recent articles by ABC News and National Public Radio. Both articles highlighted UCLA student Diego Sepulveda, a 22-year-old political science major.  Diego always dreamed of going to UCLA but never thought he would be able to afford it. His dream has not come without sacrifice though, the uncanny sacrifice of food and shelter. “All my money went to tuition…so I was walking around hungry all the time,” he said.

When classes were over for the day, Diego found “rest” anywhere he could. He alternated between the sofas in the 24-hour activities center, chairs in the library and couches in friends’ apartments. Diego has the philosophy that most other students in his position have, that getting an education will improve their situation. “Nothing is going to stop me,” he says. “I’m going to reach my goals no matter what people say.”

These students are determined to make a better life for themselves even if it means scheduling classes around shelter intake times, enduring the embarrassment of being homeless and suffering through hunger.

UCLA noticed the rise of these homeless students at their school and, in turn, created an Economic Crisis Response Team that recognizes these students and helps them stay in school. They have gone as far as situating a stocked food pantry and refrigerator behind an unmarked door for students who have no money left over for food.

The skyrocketing costs of tuition coupled with today’s economy will likely cause more colleges and universities to encounter this hidden sector of homeless who are unable to pay for dorm rooms and meal plans. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth confirms there has been an increase in homeless college students, but accurate numbers are difficult to obtain due to the fact that college students hide their homelessness and try to “blend in” with everyone else.

We’ve seen firsthand that school aged and adult students can excel academically while living at the Coalition; but they don’t have to worry about food and shelter. Fitting in with everyone else and keeping one’s homelessness a secret while in college however, is a whole different experience.

What would you do if you found out one of your classmates or your child’s classmates was homeless? Or better yet, would you have the courage and commitment to face homelessness in college?