Pathway: A collaboration to end college homelessness
What comes to mind when you think of a homeless man, woman, and child? What about a homeless college student? On a cool November night we asked a group of students at TCC South Campus. The response? Surprise. Shock. Utter disbelief that some of their fellow peers were homeless. It is hard to fathom that a college student could be experiencing this, and that an education is obtainable, given the daily challenges one must face.
We had planned to use this opportunity with the students to build awareness and create a support community for those experiencing this. The outcome though was far from what we had expected. After kicking off the event with a story from a fellow student that had experienced homelessness, others began to stand up and share their story. Each revealed details of how they became homeless. A house fire, a divorce, fleeing an abusive spouse, severe poverty, a mother experiencing schizophrenia, and being evicted due to rent spikes. One shared a moving realization that the small duffel bag he carried, easily mistaken for use at the gym, was his permanent address. Over half that attended the event had experienced homelessness or hostility at their household at some point of their education. This challenge is far deeper than we originally anticipated. The conversation could have easily gone on for a few more hours but we adjourned at 8:00 pm so those that needed could catch the bus back home for the evening.
After a day to digest the stories shared, I reflected on my own education. I recall having social challenges with depression, a side effect of my introverted personality brought on by my previous gang life, and a low paying job that I had to quit to focus on school. Shortly after graduating the market crashed and I found myself unemployed, with a newly purchased car. Remembering I had only $5.00 to my name at the end of 2008 I realized how lucky I was to have a stable household I could fall back on while I looked for work and even while I was in school. I did not need to worry about knowing where my next meal was going to come from or if there would be a cozy bed to sleep on for the night. Yet, if my household was hostile like many of the students that shared their story, I know without a doubt I would have been in their same shoes. Bouncing from shelter to shelter and job to job trying to make a means to exist. I cannot say for sure if I would have had the strength to hold on to hope.
It is scary to think how fragile our personal well-being is and how easily it can be stripped away. With so much to uncover we must ask; how do we begin to understand the intricacies of the daily challenges faced so we can create a community for these students most at risk and charter a path to the urgent solutions needed.
I have retold these stories at the events I have attended leading up to the holiday weekend. The most surprising thing is how invisible this challenge remains. Every person I talk to is as equally surprised as the students we asked. As we end 2018, we begin to plan on how we can build awareness on this challenge and start moving towards action. 2019 will be an interesting year, one filled with the lives we will impact.