Building on our previous forum on hostile design, we gathered a small group of professionals to share thoughts on our discovery on homelessness in higher education students. We learned Tarrant County College had at least 7 homeless students in the 2018 spring semester that visited the Family Empowerment Center at South Campus. The total number across the entire district is currently unknown. Faced with different challenges at home ranging from their parents’ inability to work, getting evicted from home, and criminal backgrounds, students are arriving at college with limited income and limited options. Based on interviews with the students, the local homeless shelters get full very quickly and may not offer the best environment for learning. Additionally, it is shared that the Fort Worth Housing Authority has a 7-year waiting list for affordable housing, limiting its ability for students to effectively use while they attend school. Not limited to just higher education, high school students are also experiencing similar issues.
Multifamily projects in Fort Worth come with incentives to develop a percentage of the units as low income, which helps build a transitional phase for the project to encourage additional tenants to infill the property. However, these incentives are optional, and developers can opt out by paying a fee. Coupled with the income requirements to lease, stagnant wage growth, and the rising cost of housing, most students are on the verge of losing their home or have already lost their home.
Long term, how do we build a good foundation for our future leaders?
As discussions shifted to housing projects done in other cities an interesting story was brought up of a single mother in Fort Worth that was interviewed by Jesse Herrera. Struggling with a recent divorce and working multiple jobs to cover her expenses, this woman lived in anxiety as she tried to balance work and taking care of her children. Realizing her highest expense was her house, she made a bold decision to vacate her home. She found a bus in South Texas for sale and purchased it for a modest price. While the drive was lengthy and the bus died a couple of times, she was able to get it back to Fort Worth. Working month to month she slowly converted it into a small mobile house, complete with a couch, sink, and air conditioning. This allowed her to reduce the amount of jobs she needed to support herself and have more time with her kids. This is a story that is shared by many of the students struggling pay check to pay check. They unfortunately do not always have the time, resources, or support network to take on an ambitious feat like this. This story also makes us realize we have to look inward at our own biases and assumptions towards homelessness.
This in addition with our discussions raises some key questions around housing. How do we design environments to include those most vulnerable and what key steps do we need to take to ensure we have a good foundation for our future leaders? Mostly, how do we rewrite the narrative around homelessness to reflect the actualities of the homeless experience?
We carry these questions as we continue exploring this pressing topic.