Community College Students Experiencing Homelessness

Stable and Affordable Housing Can Help Pave the Path to Education and Opportunity

Expanding access to and opportunities to housing is closely related to increasing access and opportunities to education.

The lack of educational opportunities closely links to the lack of job opportunities and the ability to afford ones’ own home in the neighborhood of their choice. Without the opportunity to earn a living wage, how does a young adult afford their own home, especially in a high cost state such as New Jersey?

Students experiencing homelessness who are attending college struggle with issues that go beyond the stereotypical heavy course loads, choosing a major and finding meaningful internships. Students attending community colleges and 2-year and 4-year institutions may not be able to afford their own apartments or room and board in a dorm. Instead, some students live in their cars, if they have their own transportation, or couch surf between friends’ homes.

This New York Times article highlights the work of advocates in California pushing for safer parking for students living in their cars. Their work raises the visibility of community college students experiencing homelessness.

The advocacy efforts to improve the lives of very low-income community college students should be applauded. But we also should not lose sight of the need to advocate for and find more permanent solutions – affordable housing options for college students that give them the permanent stability needed to succeed in school.

The article highlights that

“Last February, Massachusetts began a program that connected four community colleges with four-year campuses to offer housing, meals and some public assistance to 20 full-time students.”

Public housing authorities are potential partners that could provide the anchor of safe, affordable housing.

“Seventeen percent of community college students experienced homelessness in the last year,”

according to a recent survey from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia. The survey also found that “Half reported housing insecurity, paying only part of their rent, skimping on utility bills, or sleeping on friends’ couches and sometimes in their cars.”

Many of today’s college students support themselves entirely and do not live with family – they work multiple jobs, face food insecurity, and lack healthcare and access to quality childcare. They might be veterans and they might be piecing together the funding to attend to school. It is not uncommon for a student to be forced to take a semester or semester(s) off to work and save more money for tuition before they can go back to school.

Worrying about finding a safe place to sleep night to night or getting through the red tape and providing the proper documentation needed to apply for financial assistance, affordable housing and services distracts from the learning experience, educational opportunity and future career opportunity.

In New Jersey, Raritan Valley Community College’s Resource Center is addressing not only food insecurity on campus. The Resource Center works to meet the needs of students falling through cracks in the safety net. It both address food insecurity and risk of homelessness. If students, staff members and faculty who might be at risk of homelessness, are able to receive assistance with food, toiletries and even gas, they may have more resources available to afford housing.