Students facing housing insecurity and homelessness often rely on campus housing for shelter, so if student housing closes during breaks, those students can find themselves houseless. According to a 2020 Hope Center report, at least five out of every ten students experienced basic needs insecurity due to the pandemic. Of the 38,000 students surveyed, nearly 11% were experiencing homelessness. The need for year-round access to housing and food for at-risk students has never been greater. Colleges and universities have a prime opportunity to address student housing insecurity and support homeless students.
Examples of year-round student housing programs
Several universities have implemented programs to mitigate student homelessness. West Chester University in Pennsylvania’s Promise Program provides student housing year-round, and Kennesaw State’s CARE Center has provided housing for homeless students since 2016. Oregon State University provides an emergency housing program and a basic needs navigator, who supports homeless students by helping them find long-term housing. Tacoma Community College in Washington partners with the Tacoma Housing Authority to provide housing subsidies for vulnerable students; student need has grown so significantly that the program now has a waiting list.
UCLA students founded Bruin Shelter in 2019 to support homeless students at UCLA and Santa Monica College.
Strategies for providing housing during academic breaks
While it can seem that the student housing crisis is at a tipping point, Schoolhouse Connection, an organization founded to address the care and education of children and youth experiencing homelessness, recommends multiple ways to provide students with housing during academic breaks.
Ideally, schools would keep residence halls open during breaks for free. Indiana University at Bloomington includes year-round housing in student housing contracts. Carleton College charges a minimal fee to remain in housing during breaks and waives the fee for students with extenuating circumstances.
Access to food during breaks is also critical, as most campus dining halls are closed. Schools can provide food in common area kitchens, coordinate campus community members to provide meals, or create a meal sharing program.
During the summer, schools can provide campus jobs to cover homeless students’ summer housing or allow students to stay in their rooms all year if they are part of a specific program.
Emergency aid and community support for homeless students
Emergency housing and financial aid are also critically important. Schools should consider keeping a few rooms and spaces available as temporary housing for students facing emergency housing problems or homelessness. Sacramento State University provides emergency housing assistance to students for up to 30 days in residence halls. Emergency financial aid can help students pay utility bills, rent, or the cost of a motel room as temporary shelter. Having a campus emergency task force in place, like San Diego State University’s Economic Crisis Response Team, and basic needs support centers that also provide food and housing resources, are critical resources and can be included in marketing materials for incoming and current students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and/or financial challenges.
Community partnerships offer another way for colleges to augment homeless students’ housing and food options. Some schools partner with hotels and rent rooms for students, and the Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida provides free cooperative housing for students. One unique example is Winona Health’s Intergenerational Students in Residence Program which houses students at low cost in an assisted living community, where they have access to facilities and meals, and volunteer with the senior residents.
As awareness grows about the pervasiveness of housing and food insecurity among students, schools have an opportunity to lead the way on supporting homeless students. We know that students are more likely to graduate and perform well in school when their housing and food needs are met, so it’s time for colleges and universities to replicate existing creative solutions or create their own.