Poverty On College Campuses
4 months ago
From homelessness to food insecurity, college students are increasingly becoming the hidden face of poverty
Most college students count the days until school breaks, racing through finals to head home for the holidays or a long summer in their childhood bedroom. But for Jeffrey Williams, 22, the breaks were the worst.
“There were days when I would be in my car, like,‘Where am I gonna go?’ I would rotate houses, spending three days with one of my best friends, a couple days with a cousin. It was frustrating and depressing, but I would usually find some help, some cover and a couch or floor to sleep on,” says Williams, who is now a graduating senior at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
Two weeks before his 18th birthday, he returned to the home where he had lived since the age of 10 to find his bags in the garage.
“My adoptive mom had said, ‘When you turn 18, it’s time for you to go,’ so they could get the next kid in there to take up that space. So I was expecting it, but I didn’t really believe it. Then it got real,” Williams says.
He packed his belongings into his ’93 Cavalier and headed to his biological grandfather’s home, where he quietly claimed the couch each night, afraid to explain that he had nowhere else to go. After days of back and forth trying to get financial aid—a nearly impossible feat without his parents’ help—he reluctantly disclosed his homelessness. One heartfelt letter explaining his circumstance and a couple weeks later, he had secured loans without his parents' financial information, and was able to move into the freshman dorm.
“The only way I made it is by the grace of God,” he says.
He has spent his entire college career in limbo, attending school full time, playing football (he made the All-Academic Team every year), working two jobs at a time, and couch surfing whenever the dorms closed. At one point, rather than stay at a dorm where he would be kicked out during breaks, he used his loan money to rent a bed bug-infested studio apartment in a neighborhood where he had to carry a knife each time he walked to his car, but the rent was too much to handle on his own, and last semester he moved into the basement at his dad’s girlfriend’s house.
Williams’s story is one that is becoming increasingly common on the campuses of community colleges and four-year universities alike. For the 2010-2011 school year, the latest for which full-year data is currently available, 33,039 students admitted on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid that they were homeless. Experts think the real number is much higher.
“Many students who experience homelessness do not disclose their situation, because they are embarrassed and afraid,” says Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY).