The holiday season is an exciting time for most people. It is a chance to take a break from everyday life, spend time with loved ones, and reflect. For college students, it means leaving campus to return home. Most university campuses close their dorms during the winter break. This can be incredibly difficult for college students experiencing homelessness.
According to the 2018 Still Hungry and Homeless in College study, 36% of respondents had insecure housing situations and 9% had experienced homelessness in the past year. Reasons ranged from feeling unsafe where they were living to difficulty paying rent. Dorm rooms may provide a temporary solution to this, since the cost of living in one can be covered by Federal grants, student loans or scholarships. They can still be expensive, but are often the only option for students without a cosigner for a lease.
Taking a step aside from the deeper issues of homelessness in higher education, one can safely say that there are students who experience housing insecurity that rely on dorms for a safe place to stay. Where do they go over the holidays, if there isn’t anywhere else to go? Students may sleep in their car, or on a friend’s couch. Some stay in shelters. Even if dorms are open during the holiday break, some schools charge extra for students to stay there and cafeterias are often closed.
This grim reality is, fortunately, changing. More and more universities are starting programs to address the needs of students experiencing homelessness. Kennesaw State University’s CARES program provides year-round housing, food and toiletries, case management and more to students who have previously experienced homelessness or are currently dealing with housing insecurity. Other schools are looking at CARES as a model for their own programs. More than 650 institutions have on-campus food programs, but many schools are looking to expand that to include grocery stipends.
These programs are still the exception, however. Nationally, students experiencing homelessness or housing security are carrying the burden of schoolwork along with figuring out where they are going to sleep. It is important to recognize, when the college kids return to their hometown, that the holidays are not a vacation for everyone. If you want to help bridge this problem, check out the SchoolHouse Connection tip sheet on “Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College”. There are plenty of ways to help ensure that one more person actually has a happy holiday.