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

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

Interviews

Scroll through the interviews from below to learn more about how basic need insecurities and homelessness affect a student's path to college. Each panelist also provides actionable advice for individuals looking to attend college.

Table of Contents 1 Ernest Henderson Jr. - Regional Manager for Treehouse

Table of Contents

1 Ernest Henderson Jr. - Regional Manager for Treehouse

Stop looking at education as a set of hurdles you need to jump over. Rather, think of it as building a ladder that will allow you to climb high. I want to show them that they have peers who have made it through the process and encourage them to focus on their talents and passions. This allows them to understand what they're pursuing.

By Ernest Henderson Jr. Regional Manager at Treehouse
Learn more about Ernest Henderson Jr.

Can you tell us about your history and experience working with students who are in foster care and at Treehouse?

I have been the Eastern Washington Regional Manager for Treehouse's Education Services for the past two years. My responsibilities include managing the region's Graduation Success and Educational Advocacy programs while supporting our efforts to expand statewide by 2022. I've worked in nonprofits for more than 10 years and education for over 20 years. I have been an athletic coach for several sports and have run several different afterschool programs. I've worked for organizations like Gear Up, Upward Bound and Twenty First Century. Over the course of my career, I've encountered several youth who were in foster care in my programs. As an alumni of foster care and having been a foster parent for about 15 years, I have a deep personal connection to Treehouse's mission.

How can being a youth in foster care affect a student during high school and leading up to applying to college?

Youth in foster care experience high levels of abuse and chaos compared to their peers. All of this leads to significant behavior issues. Mental health concerns and special needs are more likely to be an issue for our youth, and the frequent transition they experience from school to school and home to home probably has the most significant impact. Most of our youth will experience several transitions during their childhood and adolescence, and many times they will experience multiple transitions within the span of a single school year. Many of them even move back and forth from their birth home to foster care several times. This creates a lot of insecurity and a lack of structure in their lives. With each transition, they can lose as much as six months of academic progress.

Is the process for applying for financial aid and FAFSA different for individuals in foster care?

It's absolutely different, and in some ways simpler for youth in foster care. When they fill out the FAFSA, they don't have to fill out parent information, income information, or tax information. Instead, they qualify as independent. This turns a process that takes a couple of hours for most people into a 10-minute process. They also qualify for more resources. For example, Washington state offers the Governor's Grant and Passport to College, both of which are open to nearly all youths in foster case.

Are there resources for foster care students that can assist with the cost of required tests like the SAT and ACT?

Most of those tests have an income-based waiver in one form or another. These are usually handled at the school level, and every school seems to work with that differently. Many times we can just get them an outright waiver so the youth doesn't have to pay for the test at all. Sometimes they won't even approach them with a fee if they're on free and reduced lunch, which all of our kids qualify for. If there isn't a waiver, Treehouse or another organization will usually pay for it. Even social workers have funds that can help cover the costs. As long as the needs of our youth are visible, we can get these tests paid for.

What are the academic challenges students in foster care specifically face on their path to college that other students may not face?

Having an unstable living environment is by far the most difficult challenge to overcome. Most youth in foster care don't know where they're going to be living semester to semester. That causes a lot of anxiety, and it makes it difficult to focus on academic achievement. These transitions can also lead to a lack of a solid academic base.

Say a youth had to move a couple times the year before when they were taking algebra one but somehow managed to pass. When they move on to the next math class in the series, they often don't have the knowledge base needed to succeed like they would have if they had been able to take the class in one setting.

What challenges do they face during college?

Our youth face all the things they faced in high school with the added struggle of navigating life without the supports they had before. Often times, youth in foster care will latch onto their most supportive teachers, coaches or other staff. Students usually don't keep these supports once they get to college, leaving them without a fixed adult figure in their life in any way. There is really no safety net. They experience a flood of freedom that they are often unprepared for, which really impacts their ability to move forward successfully.

What don't people understand about foster care and specifically students who are or have been in foster care?

Most people have a difficult time understanding how the chaos and transition that's going on in these young lives can influence their behavior and school performance. There seems to be a mindset that youth in foster care aren't capable of performing on par with their peers or of finding long-term success. I think Treehouse has really shown that, with the proper supports in place, this simply isn't true. Regardless, we still see many teachers, parents, and educators come to this conclusion. Our youth often have significant behavior issues because of the trauma and transition they've experienced. At first glance, they can appear to be poor students, but really what they need is more support and more structure.

What advice would you give to students who are in foster care and do not believe it is possible for them to attend college?

Stop looking at education as a set of hurdles you need to jump over. Rather, think of it as building a ladder that will allow you to climb high. I want to show them that they have peers who have made it through the process and encourage them to focus on their talents and passions. This allows them to understand what they're pursuing.

For me, I struggled academically in high school. There was just no foundation. I attended 17 different schools by the time I graduated high school. I did not have strong study skills, experienced intermittent homelessness, and I had to work full-time while being an athlete. This is pretty common for kids that are in foster care. I got through by the skin of my teeth and immediately moved on to a university.

After graduation, the supports I had built around me in high school were completely gone. I struggled getting out of bed. I struggled getting to class on time. I struggled scheduling my day to focus on studying. As a result, I ended up flunking out three times before the age of 20. So I took some time off, worked as a truck driver, met my wife, and got married. Once I was older and a little more mature, I decided to give it another try. It took some real hard work after high school to get to where I had enough of a base to go back to college and succeed.

Do you believe, if at all, students should address the subject of being in foster care with universities on their college application? Their college essay?

That has to be a situation-by-situation decision. I think some youth, especially a talented writer, can incorporate their story into an essay that would really show how driven they are to succeed and display some of the things they've had to overcome. By no means do youth have to feel obligated to share this with the world. There is a lot of trauma that comes with their experiences, often times talking about it doesn't benefit them and can cause them to regress into old behaviors. If they're not comfortable doing it, then they should focus on other successes they've had in life.

What are some strategies students can use to address being in or having been in foster care with universities, professors, and their peers?

This should be a case-by-case issue because of privacy. I don't know that all the professors or peers need to know about it. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes it worse because of the stigma associated with being in foster care. What a youth needs to do is ensure they utilize the services available for them. They should definitely engage in mentoring programs and financial aid programs like the Governor's scholarship. When it comes to their professors and peers, they need to be confident in the rapport they have with those individuals, and they need to move forward based on that level of comfort and trust.

Are there other organizations like yours or resources students in foster care can connect with while starting the process of applying to college?

Although no organization offers the same in-depth support that Treehouse does, there are other organizations doing an excellent job at serving our youth during the college transition. College Success Foundation is one that we collaborate with quite a bit and they're amazing. Set Up is another great organization that helps with this transition work. Independent Living supports our youth with housing and homeless issues that they may face after high school.

Some of the most valuable resources are the mentoring programs offered at universities like the Achievers program and Fostering Washington. These are designed to give our kids structured experiences so they can engage in student life, learn to use campus supports, and develop peer supports for their own community and personal growth.

What are ways high schools can support students who are in or have previously been in foster care when they are applying to college? When they are attending college?

Any counselor that works with our youth needs to be very aware of their transcripts. They should really analyze them in a way to help the student understand what they'll need to do to graduate on time, what they need to make up, and what they need to do to go to the universities or programs they want to attend.

Our youth may have enough of the credits to graduate from high school, but that doesn't mean they have the prerequisites to go to the universities or programs they want to attend. The responsibility falls on these counselors to do a really good job in keeping track of what our students have done and what deficits they need to address as early as possible.

What are ways universities can support students who have been in foster care while they are in college?

On the university side, a lot of what they're doing is offering mentoring programs like the Passport Navigator program. Just about every public university in the state has some sort of support staff that work directly with youth in foster care. The funding and support behind those programs are absolutely vital for our youth to succeed.

The lack of an adult, authority figure, or mentor often leads to failure at the post-secondary level. We need universities to engage these youth as soon as they step on campus, helping them get a schedule set in place and a plan of action for their studies. These are some of the best ways that universities can support youth in foster care.

Any final thoughts for us?

Most people assume that to influence the foster system in a positive way, they have to become a foster parent, which is a very difficult thing and not for everyone. There are a number of ways you can get involved that don't require you to be a parent. I would encourage you to visit treehouseforkids.org to learn about ways to support those efforts. Action is always better than assuming you can't help.

About Ernest Henderson Jr.

Regional Manager at Treehouse Ernest Henderson Jr. is the Treehouse Regional Manager for Eastern Washington. He partners with his fellow Regional Managers in Western Washington to expand and manage services for youth in foster care statewide. After spending nearly two decades working in education and for non-profits he is confident that he knows what drives youth success. Ernest began his work in Education as an athletic coach and substitute teacher. He took a position with an educational non-profit in 2004, running after-school programs in a rural school district in Central Washington. He has always had the desire to work in a field that improved the lives of youth, especially those from marginalized populations. Ernest holds a BS in Business Management from Western Governors University and is currently engaging in graduate studies in Management & Leadership.

2 Rachel Sumekh - Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger

Advocate for the campus to set up a webpage that describes all of the basic needs support they provide and where students who are struggling can go for support (i.e. Financial Aid Counselors, Dean of Students, Office of Health, etc.). You can also host a targeted campaign in person and on social media to raise awareness about student food insecurity and highlight some actions students can take to help, such as signing a petition to support a new meal sharing program.

By Rachel Sumekh Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger
Learn more about Rachel Sumekh

Can you tell us a little bit about your history and experience working with Swipe Out Hunger and college students who face hunger and other basic needs insecurity?

Swipe Out Hunger was founded in 2010 by a few friends as a college project at UCLA. The organization has grown and is now present on 45 universities and has served over 1.5 million meals. Their innovative approach allows university students to donate unused funds from their meal plans to food insecure peers. Earlier this year, the organization was called upon to author a piece of legislation to address college student hunger. The state of California adopted the legislation and put $7.5 million behind it.

We have 46 university and college partners, highlighted below. We work directly with Deans of Students, Directors of Dining, student leaders, student beneficiaries and the community. We provide both common sense and innovative solutions to campus hunger. Our most commonly adopted program is “The Swipe Drive” where students with extra dining hall meal swipes can donate them to their peers. Other programs include enrolling students in SNAP and financial support to campuses.

Public interest in student hunger is at an all time high. In 2017 alone, half of the interest forms we received came from university staff -- historically, its been only students. Swipe Out Hunger has become a platform and leading voice for universities who are taking action.

During your time working with youth who face hunger and basic needs insecurity, how have you seen hunger affect a student's schooling?

Many of the students we work with have shared how difficult it is to focus on studying and performing well in school when they are stressed out because they have not eaten or don't know where they will get their next meal. One student who resorted to skipping meals due to financial hardship had to suffer through the distraction of having her stomach grumble during lectures. Another student had to go to sleep early and miss study group to avoid the pangs of hunger that would get worse the longer she stayed awake.

In addition to the anecdotes we have gathered, studies published by the Wisconsin Hope Lab, the leading research team studying college students' basic needs, have demonstrated the destructive educational impacts of food insecurity for students. "Whether due to nutritional deficits or the stress and distraction of dealing with financial hardship, food insecurity can compromise students' ability to perform well in their classes. In extreme cases, food insecurity can force students to take time off from school or discontinue their education entirely" (pg 21 of this study).

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

Many people do not consider the demographics are for college students who face these circumstances. The students facing the greatest hardships are those from low-income backgrounds, those who are undocumented, those who have children, first-generation college students, and former foster youth. These are the same students who received free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches from kindergarten through high school, and who hustled to make it into college only to find out that these institutions aren't designed with students like them in mind.

The second thing people don't often consider is just how expensive the combined living expenses of college life can be. Students must pay for food, housing, transportation, textbooks, healthcare, and other expenses. Unfortunately, scholarship and financial aid programs designed for low-income students fail to truly cover the bulk of their needs.

What are the common misconceptions or stigmas associated with issues of hunger on campuses? How prevalent is student hunger?

One common misconception is that student hunger will go away if students get a job to bring in income, or take better advantage of financial aid packages. Most of the time, food insecure students are already working and receiving financial aid. Another problematic stereotype that surrounds the issue is the idea that eating ramen and PB&Js is a rite of passage that all college students should experience. Our work directly aims to disrupt this myth and break the culture of stigma that prevents many students from opening up about their struggles and seeking help.

A 2016 national study showed that by USDA standards, 22% of students attending 4-year universities and 33% of community college students reported ranking in the lowest 20% of food security levels. This translates to students consistently being unable to eat 1-3 meals a week. The same study showed that 52% of these students reported not going to class because of their lack of access to basic needs.

5. Are there resources where college students who face hunger can apply to receive food assistance? Are there programs like SNAP?

We have been excited to learn about the increase of SNAP outreach efforts on a number of colleges and universities across the country. Many of these campuses conduct strategic promotion encouraging target populations of students to sign up. Clever messaging campaigns like this Code for America initiative have helped reduce the stigma and encourage students to enroll in SNAP across campuses in California. In addition to creating this campaign, Code for America designed a special portal to make signing up for SNAP easier to navigate for California students. Some schools offer SNAP application assistance by training in-house staff to offer individual appointments or host group clinics. Other schools partner with social work interns or invite professionals from nonprofit or government agencies to come onsite.

What are academic challenges specific to students who face hunger that their peers may not experience?

Studies have found correlations between student hunger and a host of academic challenges, including missing class, missing study sessions, missing club meetings, not buying a required textbook, dropping a class, not performing well academically, changes in GPA, and persistence to the next semester in school.

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

The College and University Food Bank Alliance can support colleges with setting up or sustaining pantries on campus. In addition, the Single Stop platform helps connect people to resources they need to attain higher education, good jobs, and financial stability.

What ways can all students work on their campuses to address these stigmas? How can students advocate for their peers who face hunger or other basic needs insecurities?

Advocate for the campus to set up a webpage that describes all of the basic needs support they provide and where students who are struggling can go for support (i.e. Financial Aid Counselors, Dean of Students, Office of Health, etc.). You can also host a targeted campaign in person and on social media to raise awareness about student food insecurity and highlight some actions students can take to help, such as signing a petition to support a new meal sharing program.

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

Partner with student government to host an open discussion about what is working well and what is not with regards to food access on campus. Invite key campus admin, faculty, and dining staff to attend the forum to hear students' concerns, field questions, and brainstorm action items to improve this landscape.

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

First and foremost, start a Swipe Out Hunger meal sharing program! Other innovative best practices beyond meal sharing programs can be found here.

About Rachel Sumekh

Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger Rachel Sumekh is the Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger. The organization is a leading force in addressing hunger amongst college students. Her work has been recognized by former President Barack Obama's White House, The New York Times, and the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

3 Sara Orris - Consultant at Oakland Schools

I tell students that they have the potential and power to achieve any goal they set for themselves, because there are people ready and willing to provide them with direction and support. Most importantly, I tell them that “being homeless does not define who they are as a person and in no way defines your future.”

By Sara Orris Consultant at Oakland Schools
Learn more about Sara Orris

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

Oakland County is a unique county as it is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and as a result people do not believe homelessness is a real concern. While we have areas that are very affluent, we also have areas that are economically disadvantaged.

This dynamic has both positive and negative impacts on our homeless students. On one hand, we have a great amount of community support in terms of donations and monetary support. For example, communities support students with generous donations of backpacks and school supplies and basic need items. However, on the other hand, there continues to be a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around homelessness in our community because of a lack of awareness and the prevalence of misperceptions. Students continue to go unidentified because some districts are still resistant to accepting that their community could even have homeless students.

One of our main goals at Oakland Schools Homeless Student Services is to continue to provide advocacy for our students, as well as training and technical assistance to both school district staff and community members so we can continue to break down these barriers. We want to inform communities about what homelessness really is, and identify those students who need support.

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

This is a huge area of concern. The high school years are a time when young people are developing and changing both emotionally and physically. They are figuring out who they are and developing self-worth and self-esteem. Not knowing where they are going to sleep from day-to-day, where their next meal will come from, and how they will be able to obtain personal hygiene items needed for basic needs can be overwhelming. Not to mention that they need to focus on school assignments and homework. Homeless students have often reported that they are so worried about where they are going to sleep or how to get their basic needs met that they often can't focus on schoolwork. Without targeted support, homeless students all too often stop attending school altogether.

What are the academic challenges students who are homeless or face basic needs insecurity face on their path to college that other students may not experience?

Homeless students face a host of challenges that housed students may not. Homeless students often have to worry about where they are going to go to be able to complete homework assignments, having access to technology, or transportation to the library to be able to study or complete assignments. Homeless students are often unable to even see themselves attending college because they are so mired down in the day-to-day trauma of homelessness. They are worried about where they will live once they are in college during breaks when the dorms are typically closed. They have to overcome barriers around their financial aid applications as well as being concerned about getting enough aid to support their college journey.

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

I think that the general public just has a lack of understanding and find it difficult to really understand the impact that homelessness has on a student. I think it is difficult for people to consider or understand that a homeless student faces challenges even once they are in college. Having to worry about having enough food, a safe place to sleep, and a way to get to school are difficult concepts in general. It's easier to believe that those are problems faced by other kids in other places. The problems are startling once you learn that classmates of your children are navigating these struggles on a daily basis.

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

I tell students that they have the potential and power to achieve any goal they set for themselves, because there are people ready and willing to provide them with direction and support. Most importantly, I tell them that “being homeless does not define who they are as a person and in no way defines your future.”

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?

I believe that we should continue to empower and encourage students to advocate for themselves about what they need to be successful during their college journey. There is no shame in asking for help. That said, I also feel that it is important for the professionals charged with assisting children and young adults along their educational path to provide education and training to colleges and universities around youth homelessness and addressing homeless student unmet needs. By empowering educators and the community, we help raise the voice of advocacy for our youth.

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

I think students should try to be as up front as possible with the housing department and request year-round housing as a need. Likewise, university staff must be willing to be educated around the needs of homeless students so that they can be ready to help.

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

There are several resources available for homeless students to connect with when they are attending college. Schoolhouse Connection is a great resource and connection. Here in Michigan, many of our college and universities now have supports in place to help homeless students, as well as those that have aged out of the foster care system to assist with year-round housing, basic needs, and mentoring programs. These wonderful supports are in place thanks to the advocacy that has been done over the last several years both locally and nationally.

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

Offering year-round campus housing would help reduce the homelessness rate among college students as well as reduce the stress and burden that many of these students feel when they are concerned about where they will sleep and what they will eat while the campus is closed.

Any final thoughts for us?

We have made huge strides over the last few years, both in Michigan and nationally, in being able to bridge resources and supports between high school and post-secondary institutions, allowing our homeless students the opportunity to achieve their academic goals. We will continue to provide education and advocacy to break down barriers and provide even more support to these vulnerable group of students.

About Sara Orris

Consultant at Oakland Schools Sara Orris is a consultant at Oakland Schools working in the areas of homeless student services, human trafficking, and foster care. Sara also trains in the area of trauma. Sara is passionate about the education of children and youth and works to ensure the most vulnerable children receive the services they need to be successful in school.

4 Lisa Kossiver - Student Advisor of Students Rising Above

Lisa Kossiver - Student Advisor of Students Rising Above: interview about homelessness amongst college students

By Lisa Kossiver Student Advisor of Students Rising Above
Learn more about Lisa Kossiver

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.

About Lisa Kossiver

Student Advisor of Students Rising Above Lisa Kossiver has been involved with Students Rising Above since 2002 when she initially served on the Board of Directors. In 2004 she assumed the role of Student Outreach and Selection Chair, and in 2005 she became a Student Advisor. As Student Advisor, Lisa has helped over 50 SRA students graduate from college and enter into the workforce. Beyond her roles at SRA, Lisa has been in the field of education for over 30 years, teaching Hebrew while in college, and teaching math and computer science in both public and private school settings. Lisa graduated from Ohio State University with a BS in computer and information science and earned her teaching credential from San Francisco State University.

Students Rising Above

San Francisco Bay Area-based Students Rising Above is breaking social and economic cycles of poverty by accelerating positive change in our society and creating a more diverse and representative workforce. The organization does this by empowering youth in under-resourced communities and schools to access and excel in social, academic, and economic opportunities.

5 Darius Aikens - Member of Students Rising Above

People don't understand that it can be very difficult for someone to ask for help. Additionally, there is no homogenous basic needs insecurity narrative. Everyone's experience is different.

By Darius Aikens Member of Students Rising Above
Learn more about Darius Aikens

Can you tell us about your history and experience as a student who has been homeless and/or faced basic needs insecurity? What did these challenges teach you? How did you overcome them?

I overcame my challenges by forgiving myself for self-imposed trauma of blaming myself for my circumstance. Additionally, I utilized all the lessons that I learned and applied them to new experiences.

Were there academic challenges that you faced that your peers did not experience, given your housing situation?

My K-12 education did not play the most import role in terms of my intellect. Thus, it was more of a game, and the truth of the matter is that I didn't put in enough effort to showcase my academic abilities. My living situation did make it difficult, but not impossible.

What don't people understand about homelessness and specifically students who are homeless or face basic needs insecurity?

People don't understand that it can be very difficult for someone to ask for help. Additionally, there is no homogenous basic needs insecurity narrative. Everyone's experience is different. Lastly, people who are experiencing basic needs insecurity do not want people to apply the savior mentality with their efforts to assist the community. It's imperative that the root cause of why they experience basic needs insecurity or homelessness is addressed because otherwise it will continue to happen.

How can high schools or communities provide support to students who face basic needs insecurity or homelessness?

Do not assume that everyone is not experiencing needs insecurity unless they ask for assistance. That can be very problematic because, as mentioned earlier, it can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially unsafe to seek help.

How did being homeless and/or facing basic needs insecurity affect your applying to college?

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Fortunately, when it came to submitting college applications, I had the Students Rising Above village to support me through the entire process.

What would you say to fellow students who have faced homelessness or basic needs insecurity who do not believe it is possible to attend college?

I would encourage them to not make the experience of difficulty synonymous with the nature of impossibility.

How do you find, if at all, were the best ways to address the subject of homelessness or basic needs insecurity with universities while you were applying?

UCLA has a wonderful program called Bruin Guardian Scholars, which is open for current and former students, as well as former foster youth. This program provides great resources such as paying for textbooks, and even permitting priority enrollment for students who are a part of the program.

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

It varies based on the circumstance and where they attend school. Thus, it is imperative that institutions of higher education be more supportive of students of all familial and social backgrounds.

What are some ways universities and fellow students can help students who have faced homelessness or basic needs insecurities during this time transition in college?

Allow students to know that they are not alone and ensure that those words are matched with action by educating them about the various resources available to them. They must be accessible.

About Darius Aikens

Member of Students Rising Above Darius Aikens is from Oakland, California. He currently attends UCLA where he studies political science and African American studies. During Darius's junior year of high school he became homeless, couch-surfing from one friend's place to the next. After being connected with Students Rising Above, a San Francisco Bay Area-based college and career access nonprofit, Darius was paired with a 5-year professional advisor and career mentor, who helped guided him to pursue a college education.

Contact

If you have questions or feedback about this collection, or would like to be a participant in a future panel, please contact us using the link below.

Contact us

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

View Scholarship

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

2-1-1

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.

FoodPantries.org

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

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%