by: Shad Bookout
In campuses across the U.S., college students are settling down into their routines of class schedules and activities. But, for some students, the routines also include many hardships. Some are dealing with hunger. The financial burdens of college life have left them struggling to have enough food to survive. Others are dealing with homelessness, despite the abundance of student housing in most college towns. The last dollar available went to tuition, books, and a meal plan, leaving them without a secure place to rest their head each night. Both of these challenges impact a surprisingly large number of college students each and every day. Instead of a focus on education, they must focus first on survival.
The epidemic of hunger among U.S. college students is staggering. A recent report from The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness reports that nearly 50% of the students polled across 34 institutions reported a lack of “food security”. A second report from the Wisconsin Hope Lab revealed two-thirds of the 33,000 students polled across 70 community colleges in 24 U.S. states had significant challenges locating enough nutritional food.
But, along with the challenges of finding enough to eat, many college students spend the majority of non-class time looking for shelter each night. As reported in the New York Times:
“‘Homeless college student’ seems like a contradiction in terms,” said Paul Toro, a psychology professor at Wayne State University who studies poverty and homelessness. “If you’re someone who has the wherewithal to get yourself into college, well, of course you should be immune to homelessness. But that just isn’t the case.”
Several factors account for both pervasive issues. A lack of “life skills” leaves many college-bound students in situations where they are not able to cope with the challenges of life beyond home. Without parental support, they simply do not have the knowledge on how to accomplish life by their own accords. Depression and anxiety are also common issues helping to exasperate the conditions leading to hunger and homeless. Some just simply withdraw into seclusion and become absorbed by the stigmas surrounding both issues.
So, what can student housing professionals do to help? The first priority is to get your community involved. Create a charitable giving day where you volunteer with organizations to help those dealing with hunger issues. Even if your community cannot directly help them, the time you put forth can have a massive impact to others.
Another way to help is to examine your own student population and try to recognize those residents who are in jeopardy. This presents unique challenges, since few will admit to the issues leading them towards an “at risk” situation. Ask roommates about the people they live with and conduct wellness visits at least one to two times per term. Earlier identification can help get them the support they need early and can prevent catastrophic occurrences down the road.