Student Homelessness &
Basic Needs Insecurity

Insufficient food and a lack of stable housing are major issues for many college students in the U.S. According to the 2018 Still Hungry and Homeless in College study published by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 36% of respondents considered themselves "food insecure" in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. Another 36% said they were "housing insecure," and 9% were homeless during the past year.

The Still Hungry and Homeless in College Report notes that community college students face homelessness and housing insecurity to a greater degree than students at four-year institutions. Roughly 46% of the survey's respondents identified as housing insecure community college students, and 12% identified as homeless community college students. The survey included 43,000 respondents from 66 different colleges and universities in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The cost of higher education is one major factor behind student homelessness. Data from the National Center of Education Statistics indicates that, during the 2016-17 academic year, the net cost of college attendance (the total cost minus financial aid) was $13,400 for students at public universities, $22,300 for those at private for-profit schools, and $26,200 for those at private nonprofit schools.

46% of the survey's respondents identified as housing insecure community college students, and 12% identified as homeless community college students.

Many college students do not seek public assistance, despite not having enough money to eat or access stable housing, and this may be due in part to social stigma. For example, only 20% of respondents from California who are eligible for CalFresh, the state's branch of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), received benefits. Additionally, 50% of respondents from one university said they would not want to encounter fellow students when receiving food at an on-campus pantry.

This resource is designed for college students facing basic need insecurities and homelessness. We will examine some of the underlying reasons behind these trends and provide resources for homeless students, including links for financial aid and food and housing assistance for college students.

Causes of Homelessness Among Students Self-Reporting as Homeless
I felt unsafe where I was living 21%
I had difficulty paying the rent/mortgage 33%
A conflict or problem with someone I lived with 40%
I was in another difficult situation 58%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Historically, basic needs insecurities and homelessness have primarily affected students from low-income families. Sara Goldrick-Rab, lead author of the Still Hungry and Homeless in College study, told NPR that this trend appears to be shifting to middle-income students as well. Those dealing with food insecurity are forced to skip meals and forgo nutritious foods for inexpensive, less healthy options. This can cause students to lose weight and impair their ability to concentrate. Housing insecurity can also lead to being evicted or falling behind on monthly bills, as well as homelessness.

As noted in the study, students who attend two-year community colleges are more likely to face basic needs insecurity and homelessness than those who attend four-year institutions. Among these respondents, 42% said they were food insecure, and 46% said they were housing insecure.

Basic needs insecurities and student homelessness can have a negative effect on academic performance and career potential. Food and housing insecurity are statistically linked to poor grades in college and lower rates of degree completion, as well as longer work hours and an increased risk of unemployment. Researchers have also noted relationships between basic needs insecurity and mental health issues, such as depression and above-average stress levels.


Homelessness can take several forms for college students. Some students consider themselves homeless if they couch surf or stay with friends. Other homeless college students live in shelters, automobiles, abandoned buildings, or outdoor areas. A common bond between these students was not knowing where they were going to sleep that night. Roughly 6% of respondents from two-year institutions and 4% of respondents from four-year institutions claimed they had been thrown out of their home.

Homelessness Among Sample Respondents in the Past Year
  2-Year Institutions 4-Year Institutions
Not knowing where you were going to sleep, even for one night 7% 6%
Thrown out of home 6% 4%
Stayed in an abandoned building, car, or other place not meant for housing 4% 3%
Evicted from home 3% 1%
Stayed in a shelter 2% 0%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Housing Insecurity

Housing insecurity encompasses other challenges for students related to their place of residence, including the inability to pay rent or utilities on time, occupying a residence with others beyond its official capacity, and moving two or more times within a given year. Among survey respondents, 46% of students at two-year institutions experienced housing insecurity within the past year, and 35% experienced it within the past month. These figures were slightly lower for students at four-year institutions, 36% of whom faced homelessness in the past year, and 22% in the previous month.

Housing Insecurity Among Sample Respondents in the Past Year
  2-Year Institutions 4-Year Institutions
Did not pay full amount of utilities 22% 12%
Had a rent or mortgage increase that made it difficult to pay 21% 13%
Moved in with other people due to financial problems 17% 11%
Did not pay full amount of rent or mortgage 18% 10%
Lived with others beyond the expected capacity of the housing 11% 7%
Moved two or more times 10% 15%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity refers to limited or uncertain availability of foods that are nutritionally adequate or safe, or one's ability to obtain these foods in a socially acceptable way. The most extreme forms of food insecurity involve psychological sensations of hunger and/or weight loss. Additionally, 22% of students at two-year institutions and 18% of students at four-year institutions said they skipped meals or cut meal size because they didn't have enough money for food for at least three consecutive days.

Percent of Students Endorsing Statement - Food Insecurity
  2-Year Institutions 4-Year Institutions
I couldn't afford to eat balanced meals. 46% 40%
I worried whether my food would run out before I got money to buy more. 44% 36%
The food that I bought just didn't last and I didn't have money to get more. 37% 29%
Did you ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn't enough money for food? 31% 25%
Did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn't enough money for food? 29% 23%
Were you ever hungry but didn't eat because there wasn't enough money for food? 24% 20%
Three or more days: Did you ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn't enough money for food? 22% 18%
Did you lose weight because there wasn't enough money for food? 14% 11%
Did you ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn't enough money for food? 9% 6%
Three or more days: Did you ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn't enough money for food? 5% 3%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

The 2018 Still Hungry and Homeless in College report revealed that basic needs insecurity affects certain student groups more than others.

A history of foster care appeared to be a factor for many. Students in foster care represented 4% of respondents from two-year institutions and 1% of respondents from four-year institutions. Among these respondents from two- and four-year institutions, 62% to 63% experienced food insecurity, 60% to 68% experienced housing insecurity, and 24% experienced homelessness. The figures were significantly lower for those who did not have a history of foster care.

The report also noted trends for different gender and sexual orientation groups. Roughly half of non-binary respondents at two- and four-year institutions experienced both food and housing insecurity, and nearly a quarter experienced homelessness. These figures were also higher for female students than for male students. In terms of sexual orientation, bisexual and homosexual students reported higher percentages of food and housing insecurity than heterosexual students and those who did not give a sexual preference, particularly those who attended two-year institutions.

...bisexual and homosexual students reported higher percentages of food and housing insecurity than heterosexual students and those who did not give a sexual preference, particularly those who attended two-year institutions.

The data indicates a correlation between race/ethnicity and basic needs insecurities. Black, Native American, Hispanic, and multiracial or other students reported the highest percentages of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and homelessness. Asian students reported the lowest percentages at two-year institutions, while white students reported the lowest percentages at four-year institutions.

According to the data, other groups that faced basic needs insecurities in disproportionate numbers include students between the ages of 21 and 30, students with children, divorced students, and students not claimed by parents as dependents. The report also revealed that students who receive federal Pell Grants were more likely to face food and housing insecurity.

Students who are citizens or permanent residents face housing insecurity at a comparable rate to those who are not citizens or permanent residents. The same is true of students whose parents are both citizens or permanent residents versus those with at least one parent who is not a citizen or permanent resident.

Basic Needs Insecurity Among Students Ever in Foster Care (2-Year Institutions)
  Food Housing Homelessness
In Foster Care 62% 68% 24%
Not in Foster Care 42% 46% %

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Basic Needs Insecurity by Sexual Orientation (2-Year Institutions)
  Food Housing Homelessness
Heterosexual 41% 46% 11%
Homosexual 47% 48% 18%
Bisexual 54% 55% 23%
Other 42% 42% 12%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Basic Needs Insecurity by Gender (2-Year Institutions)
  Food Housing Homelessness
Male 36% 38% 11%
Female 44% 49% 12%
Non-Binary 50% 52% 23%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Basic Needs Insecurity by Race/Ethnicity (2-Year Institutions)
  Food Housing Homelessness
Black 54% 55% 13%
Native American 55% 69% 19%
Hispanic 47% 51% 10%
Middle-Eastern/Arab 43% 49% 12%
Asian 36% 37% 7%
White 37% 42% 11%
Mixed/Other 50% 52% 17%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Basic Needs Insecurity by Special Circumstances (2-Year Institutions)
  Food Housing Homelessness
Student Receives the Pell Grant 55% 57% 15%
Student Does Not Receive the Pell Grant 35% 38% 10%
Citizen or permanent resident 42% 45% 12%
Not a citizen or permanent resident 38% 44% 8%
Both parents are citizens or permanent residents 42% 45% 12%
At least 1 parent is not a citizen or permanent resident 41% 47% 8%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, young people who are homeless or basic needs insecure face several barriers when applying to college. Foster children may also be at a disadvantage if they are not living under the care of supportive foster parents.

One of these obstacles is a fundamental lack of support from adults who can guide them through the process of searching for schools and collecting application materials. Many also struggle to complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms, which are required to qualify for federal financial aid. Fees for entrance exams and housing deposits also pose a significant burden.

Homeless or basic needs insecure college applicants may be able to secure emergency loans or emergency grant aid from their school's financial aid office. Some colleges and universities maintain a limited cash reserve for students facing financial hardship. In some cases, the school will be able to provide a financial aid advance as well. Students are also encouraged to inquire about on-campus food pantries, which provide nutritious food to students in need. These resources may give homeless and basic needs insecure students a much-needed boost before their financial aid arrives.

Application Fees and Waivers

According to U.S. News & World Report, the typical school application costs $50, but many institutions charge $70 or more per application. These fees are not refundable. However, application waivers are often available to low-income applicants, including those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Prospective students should contact school admission personnel for information about application waivers. In recent years, some schools have instituted policies stating that students don't need to pay for their application nor obtain an application fee waiver.

Standardized test fee waivers are available to low-income students, as well. Both the SAT and ACT offer waivers to exam-takers from low-income families, including those who receive public assistance or live in federally subsidized public housing. Some schools allow students to apply for housing deposit fee waivers. This allows them to reserve a living space in on-campus housing without paying the deposit, which normally costs $150 to $300, although students with outstanding debt to the school may not qualify. Housing deposit fee waiver forms are usually available on the school's website.

Financial Aid and the FAFSA for Homeless Students

Financial aid for homeless students is available. Students must complete and submit a FAFSA in order to qualify for loans, grants, and other forms of financial aid from the federal government. FAFSA applicants may also qualify for state and institutional grants and scholarships.

FAFSA applicants are asked to provide detailed information about their earnings and financial history. Required documents include federal tax returns and W-2 forms, bank statements, and records of investments and untaxed income. If the applicant is considered a dependent for tax purposes, then they must submit the same documentation for their parents or guardians. This information is used to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which determines how much aid the applicant will receive.

However, students with special circumstances may not be required to submit information for their parents or guardians. This is known as a dependency override, and FAFSA applicants who indicate that they are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless may qualify. A student is considered homeless if they lack fixed, adequate housing. This includes those who live in shelters, motels, automobiles, or parks, as well as those who temporarily live with other people. Dependency overrides are also granted to students who are fleeing abusive parents or guardians, but they are not available to students whose parents or guardians refuse financial support.

A student is considered homeless if they lack fixed, adequate housing. This includes those who live in shelters, motels, automobiles, or parks, as well as those who temporarily live with other people.

Financial aid administrators (FAAs) determine homelessness for students on a case-by-case basis. The FAA will also make the final determination for homeless applicants who cannot obtain verification of their status from a homeless youth liaison, Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) provider, or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provider. Applicants will not receive a final EFC, which is required for all applicants, until an FAA has approved their dependency override. Without this approval, the applicant must provide parental information in order to calculate their EFC.

Regardless of the dependency override, homeless FAFSA applicants must submit their own financial information. Single individuals with an annual income of less than $10,400 are not required to file tax returns. Independent students who have not filed tax returns because they were not required to do so should select 'not going to file' on the FAFSA's tax return section. Applicants who have received extensions from the IRS should do the same, although they will need to update their FAFSA information when the extension ends. Learners who earn $10,400 or more but did not file a tax return or receive an extension have committed an unauthorized failure to file and will not be eligible for federal financial aid. In order to qualify for federal aid at a later date, these individuals will need to set up a payment plan with the IRS.

Applicants who have filed their taxes through a tax preparer can normally obtain copies of past returns for free, but those who file directly with the Internal Revenue Service must pay a $50 fee for each requested copy. They may also need to contact their bank for statements, which should be available for free. Those who do not own a computer may be able to use a computer at their local library to obtain these documents. Internet access at most libraries is free with a valid library card, although some impose fees for printed documents.

FAFSA forms are available on a rolling basis. Students seeking federal aid may complete the forms beginning in October prior to the start of the next academic year, and must submit the form no later than June 30 of the same academic year. The window for the 2018-19 academic year is October 17, 2017 to June 30, 2019. Corrections or updates to the form must be submitted no later than September 14, 2019. In addition to these federal deadlines, some states impose earlier deadlines for certain awards. Students should also check for institutional aid deadlines at the school they plan to attend.

NAEHCY Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth offers this scholarship award to homeless children planning to earn a postsecondary degree. A book stipend is included with all scholarship awards.
Amount: $2,500 per recipient

View Scholarship

SchoolHouse Connection Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is available to young people who have experienced homelessness. Candidates must be high school seniors, GED recipients, or students completing a gap year who are planning to attend college for the first time. Undocumented students are also eligible. Ten scholarships are awarded each year.
Amount: $2,000 per recipient

View Scholarship

Que Llueva Café Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This award is offered to undocumented immigrants who have completed high school or earned a GED and are enrolled at an accredited institution for the forthcoming school year. Currently enrolled college students are not eligible. This scholarship has awarded more than $90,000 in financial aid during its 10-year history.
Amount: Varies by recipient

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Horatio Alger Association State Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Each year, one student per each U.S. state is selected to receive this award. Candidates must be high school students who demonstrate critical financial need and have faced and overcame great obstacles in their young lives. A minimum 2.0 GPA and U.S. citizenship are required.
Amount: Up to $10,000 per recipient

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Family Fellowship

Who Can Apply: Available through Together We Rise and the Fund II Foundation, this award is offered to youth in foster care. Students selected for the award will receive five years of full tuition, a monthly housing allowance, and personal and career mentors that provide guidance to students during and after college.
Amount: Up to $90,000 per recipient

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Winners for Life Foundation Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Winners for Life is a charitable foundation that provides assistance to at-risk and underprivileged young people. The organization awards more than 100 scholarships each year. All scholarships are delivered through local schools, and candidates should contact their guidance counselor for more information.
Amount: Varies by recipient

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Foster Care to Success Sponsored Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Since 2000, FC2S has awarded more than $15 million in scholarship aid to more than 2,000 recipients in all 50 states. Candidates must be youth in foster care. The organization's sponsored scholarships include awards targeting community college and university students.
Amount: $1,500 to $5,000

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Take Stock in Children

Who Can Apply: Based in Florida, this charitable foundation was launched in 1995 to help children escape poverty and receive postsecondary education. The foundation has worked with more than 800 schools in the state. Recipients qualify for a scholarship, as well as mentoring and career coaching while they are enrolled.
Amount: Varies by recipient

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Beat the Odds Program

Who Can Apply: This scholarship program, sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund, is aimed at high school students who have overcome tremendous adversity and achieved academic excellence. Recipients are selected from five states: California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Texas, as well as the District of Columbia.
Amount: Varies by state and recipient

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Casey Family Services Alumni Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This award is available to young people from Maryland or the six New England states who have received foster care, guardianship, or adoption services from Casey Family Services. Candidates should be between the ages of 16 and 49 and be pursuing, or planning to pursue, an undergraduate or master's degree from an accredited school.
Amount: Up to $10,000

View Scholarship

Housing Assistance


This toll-free number connects callers to community resource specialists. More than 200 agencies, including the United Way, are affiliated with this number. Services available include rent and utility assistance, subsidized housing, and access to emergency shelters.

Low-Rent Apartment Search

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidizes apartment owners, which allows them to offer units at discounted rental rates. HUD offers this nationwide aggregator of subsidized apartment and rental properties. Apartment seekers can use this tool to locate potential units and contact the manager directly.

Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS

Homeless people are at an elevated risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The HOPWA program provides housing assistance for anyone living with HIV/AIDS, including college students. The program also includes chemical dependency and mental health treatment, nutritional counseling, and job placement services.

Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration works with nearly 500 local organizations nationwide to provide services for people who are homeless due to substance abuse and/or mental illness. These services include referrals for housing.

Recovery Support Strategic Initiative

Another initiative from the SAMHSA, this program partners with people in recovery from substance abuse and/or mental illness, as well as their families, with the goal of promoting individual health, securing housing to support their recovery, and eliminating barriers to employment and education.

Food and Nutritional

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP offers funding for food purchases to homeless individuals and low-income households. The program was previously known as the Food Stamp Program. Eligible recipients may purchase any food that will be consumed at home, as well as seeds and plants that bear edible food.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

This service offers grants for food purchases, health care referrals, and nutrition education programs to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, as well as at-risk children ages five and younger. Eligibility is based on the family's size and their net weekly income.

Feeding America

Feeding America is a nationwide network that consists of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries that provide meals to homeless and low-income individuals. Roughly one in seven Americans receive meals from these facilities. Their website helps people locate food banks and pantries in their community.

Students facing homelessness and basic needs insecurities can use this site to locate food banks, soup kitchens, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing food assistance. In addition to a nationwide search tool, site visitors can also access information about government and nonprofit grocery programs.

The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP)

The CKP operates student-led, on-campus kitchens serving homeless and low-income individuals at more than 60 colleges and universities across the country. The kitchens also maintain gardens and coordinate nutrition education programs within their local communities.

Transportation and Living Expenses

Subsidized Bus Passes

Homeless and low-income students may qualify for subsidized or free bus passes through human service agencies in their local community. These agencies typically receive a bulk of the funding from federal, state, and/or local government grants. These bus passes can be beneficial for students commuting to campus, as well as graduates seeking employment.

Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)

This federal program provides assistance to low-income families with working parents who require child care services. Eligible recipients must be the parents or primary caregivers for children under the age of 13, or children under the age of 19 with disabilities or other conditions that make them incapable of self-care.

Office of Child Care

Homeless or low-income students with young children may qualify for child care subsidies and assistance services through their state's department of health and social services. The Office of Child Care offers this national listing of department contact information for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

LIHEAP is a federally-funded program that subsidizes monthly energy bills for low-income families. Other services include energy crisis assistance, as well as weatherization and other home repairs and improvements. The LIHEAP is offered in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Contact your local National Energy Assistance Referral office for more information.

Rural Rental Assistance

Many colleges and universities in the U.S. are located in rural communities. Administered by the USDA, the Rural Rental Assistance program subsidizes monthly expenses for low-income individuals whose rent exceeds 30% of their monthly income. Applicants may contact their local USDA Rural Development office for more information.

Mental Health and Medical Care

Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or discounted health insurance to millions of people across the country, including homeless individuals and low-income families. Candidates submit an application to the Health Insurance Marketplace. If they are eligible, their information will be referred to the agency in their state of residence.

National Healthcare for the Homeless Council

This organization provides support to more than 200 public health centers located in all 50 states. The website features a nationwide directory of health centers where homeless individuals and their families can seek treatment and support services.


ULifeline is a free, confidential hotline that enables college students to receive support and services for mental and emotional health concerns. Created by the Jed Project, an organization dedicated to supporting college students, ULifeline operates at more than 1,500 colleges and universities across the country.

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator

Many homeless and basic needs insecure individuals struggle with alcoholism, opioid addiction, and other substance abuse issues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a locator tool that connects site visitors to behavioral health treatment services in their local community.

Campus Health Centers

Students who are homeless or basic needs insecure are encouraged to reach out to their on-campus health center if they experience medical or mental health issues. Many schools offer free or discounted health insurance and low-cost treatment and counseling options to enrolled students.

Government Assistance Programs

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

The federal government offers social security disability insurance and benefits to individuals who cannot work due to medical conditions. In order to qualify, applicants must be 18 years of age and not currently receiving other Social Security benefits. The disability benefits application is available online.

Veterans Benefits (pension, service disability, or GI Bill)

Nearly 40,000 U.S. military veterans are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Created under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the G.I. Bill provides educational assistance to military veterans, servicemembers, and dependents. Candidates can access information about educational programs and explore benefits at different schools using a comparison tool found on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Earned Income Tax Credit

Known as the EITC or EIC, this tax credit targets working individuals who qualify as middle or low income. In order to qualify for the EITC, single individuals with no children must earn less than $15,010 in the previous tax year. These limitations are adjusted for married individuals, as well as families with children.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Financed with funds from the U.S. Treasury, SSI provides monthly benefits to low-income individuals who are disabled, blind, or over the age of 65. The monthly payments may be used to pay for food, shelter, clothing, and other essential expenses. SSI recipients may also qualify for Medicaid assistance to help pay for doctor's visits, prescription medication, and other medical services.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The TANF program provides financial assistance to low-income families. In addition to cash payments, other services include child care assistance and job preparation counseling. Benefits are administered at the state level. Candidates may apply for TANF benefits at their state or local welfare office.

Use of Assistance Among Survey Respondents Who Were Homeless in the Past Year
  2-Year Institutions 4-Year Institutions
Any Form of Assistance 64% 48%
Medicaid or Public Health Insurance 40% 22%
Tax Refunds (including Earned Income Tax Credit) 26% 24%
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) 29% 15%
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) 9% 3%
Housing Assistance 8% 5%
Utility Assistance 7% 4%
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 7% 4%
Child Care Assistance 8% 4%
Veterans Benefits (pension, service disability, or GI Bill) 4% 5%
Transportation Assistance 8% 4%
Unemployment Compensation/Insurance 4% 3%
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 4% 3%
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) 6% 2%

Source: Wisconsin Hope Lab

Additional Resources for At-Risk Students

  • National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty: This nonprofit offers legal advice and services to more than 3.5 million homeless families. The Law Center's website features information and resources pertaining to housing rights, civil rights for people who face homelessness, and youth and education rights.
  • National Coalition for the Homeless: This coalition seeks to connect people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness with activists, advocates, and service providers in their local communities. The NCH offers resources for different groups who are disproportionately affected by homelessness, such as the elderly, youth, veterans, and members of the LGBT community.
  • Fair Housing Complaint Process: Many people who are homeless or basic needs insecure encounter discrimination when they attempt to secure housing for themselves. Affected individuals can file an official complaint with the HUD at no charge. This page on the HUD website breaks down the step-by-step process for filing and following up on these complaints.
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act: Signed into law in 1987, this act is the key piece of legislation regarding the educational rights of homeless children and youth. This guide, published in 2017, addresses common questions and concerns about the act, including matters related to college students such as fee waivers and financial aid.
  • State Coordinators for Homeless Education: Federal law requires each state to appoint a coordinator for homeless education who is responsible for implementing and complying with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The National Center for Homeless Education provides an interactive map with links to state coordinator contact information, as well as homeless student statistics for each state.

What University Students Can Do

Postsecondary students can support their homeless peers and other basic needs insecure members of their community in several ways. Programs like the Campus Kitchen Project enable them to implement and manage on-campus food banks and pantries where people can receive meals and nutrition education. They can also participate in student-led organizations, such as Challah for Hunger, that raise awareness about food insecurity on and off campus. Students are encouraged to research clubs and organizations at their school that advocate and serve homeless populations.

Additionally, students can help their homeless peers by creating support networks that provide food and serve meals. It's also beneficial for learners to lead on-campus training programs that highlight the effects of basic needs insecurities on college students, such as SNAP and other assistance programs aimed at homeless and low-income individuals.

What Universities Can Do

As noted in a recent article from Circa, many colleges and universities do not understand the full extent of homelessness among students on their campus. School administrators should collect evidence and conduct student surveys in order to fully grasp this issue. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab provides a guide to survey practices and strategies. The Still Homeless and Hungry in College report also encourages campus officials to form committees and task forces that address this problem, and to create programs dedicated to helping homeless and basic needs insecure students.

Many colleges and universities partner with local food banks, charitable organizations, and other entities that serve homeless and low-income individuals. These partnerships can help schools provide free or low-cost housing, meal vouchers, and other services to these students.

What Lawmakers Can Do

According to the Still Homeless and Hungry in College report, financial aid alone is often insufficient for students to feed and house themselves. Policymakers can curb this issue by developing incentives for colleges and universities to support academic success, degree completion, and postgraduate employment. Lawmakers can also modify the work requirements for SNAP assistance, which can be prohibitive to students enrolled in classes.

Obtaining financial aid can be difficult for homeless students who declare themselves as independent from their parents. Correcting the complex Title IV system could simplify the process of receiving dependency overrides and qualifying for financial aid without parental income information. Policymakers can also provide more oversight regarding Cost of Attendance (COA) figures, which are used to determine financial aid eligibility. In many cases, COA costs are understated.

Lastly, lawmakers can expand on existing laws that help fund living expenses for homeless and low-income students. For instance, modifying the National School Lunch Program to include food insecure college students would help feed millions of people who can't afford campus meal plans.

Do I have to have a stable address to fill out the FAFSA?

No. If you do not have a stable address, then you may complete the FAFSA form by entering the address where you normally receive mail. Options include the address of a trusted friend or family member, as well as the school you attend – though you may need to receive permission to do so and set up a system for receiving mail.

Do I have to have my parent's information to fill out the FAFSA?

No. Students who are considered independent can apply for a dependency override, which relieves them of the requirement to provide parental information. Dependency overrides are granted on a case-by-case basis, but most homeless college students will qualify for them if they can verify they are unaccompanied homeless youth. This verification must come from a homeless youth liaison, RHYA provider, or HUD provider.

Are there special financing programs for homeless students?

Homeless college students may qualify for Federal Perkins Loans, which are reserved for students with exceptional financial need. The fixed interest rate for these loans is 5%, and repayments do not need to be made until the recipient graduates or leaves school, but not all colleges and universities honor these loans. Grants and scholarships targeting homeless and low-income students may provide necessary supplemental income, and some cover all tuition and housing costs for the recipient's entire program. Those who cannot obtain loans, scholarships, or grants may qualify for SNAP benefits, which provide monthly cash payments used to purchase food, and subsidized or low-cost housing through HUD.

What's the difference between homelessness and housing insecurity?

According to the Still Hungry and Homeless in College survey, homelessness refers to people who do not have a stable residence and reside in shelters, abandoned buildings, automobiles, or outside. Housing insecurity refers to the broader challenge of being unable to pay rent or utilities on a regular basis, as well as needing to move frequently. Roughly 36% of survey respondents identified as housing insecure within the past 30 days, and 9% identified as homeless.

Where do homeless students stay during college?

The Still Hungry and Homeless in College report notes that the majority of homeless college students stay at the homes of friends or relatives, and roughly one-third stay with a romantic partner. The living situation is more dire for others. As the table below shows, 10% respondents claim to live with someone they were having sex with in order to secure a residence. Others said they slept in hospitals or emergency rooms, abandoned buildings, shelters, and juvenile detention centers or jails.

Juvenile detention center or jail 1%
Group home 2%
Residential treatment facility 2%
Train/bus or train/bus station 3%
Hospital or emergency room 3%
Abandoned building/vacant unit/squat 4%
24-hour restaurant/laundromat/other retail establishment 4%
Shelter 8%
Anywhere outside 8%
Transitional housing 9%
Home of someone I was having sex with in exchange for housing or survival needs 10%
Neighbor's home 10%
Other person's home 17%
House or apartment of a stranger or someone I didn't know well 17%
Hotel, motel, or hostel 22%
Car or other vehicle 30%
Home of boyfriend/girlfriend 34%
Relative's home 51%
Friend's home (non-neighbor) 62%