Lisa Kossiver – Student Advisor of Students Rising Above

Can you tell us a little bit about your history and experience working with students who are homeless or face basic needs insecurity at Students Rising Above?

I have been an educator for 30 years and have had students who were in my classroom who have been and are homeless. I have 14+ years of experience as an advisor with Students Rising Above.

How does homelessness or basic needs insecurity affect a student’s schooling? Specifically during high school?

A homeless student does not have a place to do their work, or to study. Therefore, they are not getting good rest or enough food or water. They do not have connections to things and can be a bit aloof at times since they are always on the move.

For some school is their refuge — a sanctuary — and that is the case for our homeless SRA students. School is where they are safe and get fed, and in turn it is where they thrive.

What don’t people understand about the challenges faced by students in these circumstances?

People do not understand how important basic necessities are, such as having a bed, or knowing where food is coming from. For example, one student Darius had a difficult transition during his first quarter at UCLA. For the first time in a long time, he had a bed to always come home to and always had food. It affected him and it was a hard transition after always being in survival mode in high school and not knowing where he was living, eating, sleeping, etc.

What would you say to these students who do not believe it is possible to attend college?

This issue is constant — most do not believe they belong or can do it. Obviously if they are applying to a college then they belong there academically. However, once they arrive at school they do not believe they should be there. I would say you are there, you got in, you can academically compete. Now you need to believe in yourself, believe you belong, and know this is the next step in your future. SRA advisors spend time working with our students to help them embrace their place at college and know they belong.

How do you believe, if at all, students should address the subject of homelessness or basic needs insecurity with a university they are applying to?

Well, it should be part of their personal statements — let the university know they are homeless when they apply. I have seen on most applications that there are fields that ask if students are homeless. Once attending the school, meet with the homeless advocate. Most homeless students have programs at their college they belong to, such as Guardian Scholars. Guardian Scholars work with foster youth, students in guardianships, and I do believe also homeless youth.

What are some strategies students can use to address their basic needs insecurity or homelessness with universities, professors, and their peers?

To be real and honest about their situation to the appropriate people, including their professors and peers. To not hide in shame about their situation. Every school has a support system, but can only help if they are aware of your situation. There is a lot of shame in being homeless for some, but again services cannot happen if no one is aware.

Are there organizations or resources college students who face basic needs insecurity or homelessness can connect with?

Each school is different, but homeless services do exist.

What are specific ways schools can work with students and organizations to lower the rate of students who face homelessness or basic needs insecurity while in college?

They can make sure students know about their services. They can also let students know about the literature available to them and where they can go to seek those services.

What are ways universities can support students who face basic needs insecurity or homelessness while in attendance?

They can allow them to stay on campus over breaks and during the summer for free. They can also offer free food programs.

Any final thoughts for us?

SRA students are not homeless during school time — they should all have a place to live. Additionally, SRA uses its resources and makes sure no student is homeless during school breaks, which may not otherwise be the case.