Groups Step Up Efforts to Prevent Student Homelessness During School Vacations – Lake County Record-Bee
Without her full scholarship to Cal State San Bernardino, third-year sociology student Syerra Gardner might not have been able to pursue graduate school.
“I knew I had to finish high school, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do next,” said Gardner, who learned about the scholarship from a high school counselor while living in a homeless shelter. “She was just explaining all these great things that I can apply for so I can make a life for myself, and I took the opportunity and ran with it, you could say.”
But Gardner might have faced homelessness again if not for programs and scholarships that allow him to stay in dorms during winter and summer break. She lives in dormitories on campus, a cost her scholarship covers during the school year, where she usually has access to school meal plans. During school vacations, she relies heavily on canned food, her campus pantry or CalFresh, the state food benefit program.
Even though colleges have empty dormitories for winter and summer vacation, students who need accommodation must find money to cover dorm and boarding costs.
Without a safe family home to rely on, Gardner must fend for herself during these school holidays. For students like her who can’t afford housing and living expenses, that’s where organizations play a crucial role, like GiveBack, which awarded Gardner the full scholarship, SchoolHouse Connection, a non-profit organization that works to end homelessness through policy advocacy and funding for students and Guardian Scholars, an organization based on chapters on college campuses that helps support former adoptive youth. and homeless.
Such support for students like Gardner is life changing. But getting help can be very time consuming.
When it falls to off-campus organizations or the students themselves to seek out resources that will cover costs between school breaks, the result is an exhausting and stressful focus on housing and food security rather than academic success.
Students who drop out of school or don’t do well in the classroom often face other distractions like their living conditions, said Bryan Spencer, deputy director of the educational opportunities program at State University. of San Diego, which operates their Guardian Scholars campus. “If we can remove or reduce these barriers as much as possible, it really gives every student the best opportunity to focus on their studies, career transitions, and engagement on campus.”
As such, their Guardian Scholars program has created a unique housing solution by partnering with the university and the San Diego Housing Commission, which is operated by the city’s Department of Urban Development and Housing. When students register with the California State University system and identify themselves as current or former foster children, legal guardians, or unaccompanied minors, Guardian Scholars staff email them separately with a program application. Students can then receive a housing grant, the amount of which depends on several factors, such as whether they live on campus or off campus, the size of their housing, and whether they have roommates.
Students who live on campus can sign a housing contract for year-round housing that includes winter and summer holidays. If they live off-campus, the Housing Exchange will set up automatic monthly payments to the landlord for the duration of the housing contract.
As long as the student remains enrolled in the courses, he does not have to worry about his accommodation.
“Housing pricing is a game-changer,” said Spencer, who has worked at the San Diego campus since 2006. Before housing pricing was implemented, Spencer and her colleagues often helped support students in crisis. Typically, before the winter and summer break, students would share that they would soon have to couch surf or have nowhere to live, and the staff would step in to find them accommodation or funding. .
Now, six years later, he doesn’t remember any student facing a similar housing crisis.
The team hopes the housing support model can be replicated across California. For campuses that may not yet be able to, advocates suggest using available resources creatively.
“It is difficult for schools to intercede and provide full year-round support on behalf of students, but I believe there are resources and opportunities on campus that could benefit these students,” said Jordyn Roark, Director of Youth Leadership and Fellowships. at SchoolHouse Connection.
For example, Roark continued, campuses often hire students as orientation officers to help enroll incoming freshmen in classes and welcome them to campus. These orientation sessions are often held on a staggered schedule to reduce the size of orientation groups and may include staying on campus for a few days.
“Perhaps doing some targeted outreach to students in need of housing and seeing if they are interested in participating as an orientation leader would provide them with employment over the summer, as well as housing. “, she said.
To help students, SchoolHouse Connection is offering $2,000 scholarships and other emergency funds.
“We give to them in the way they think would benefit them the most. We try to be as free as possible,” Roark said. “Funding flexibility ensures that students can apply it to any living expenses, such as housing, laptop, cell phone, or meals.”
Securing stable housing during summer and winter breaks can sometimes make or break a student’s ability to graduate from college, advocates say.
While Gardner has family in Southern California, moving in with them, even for a short time, would bring her back to the unstable and sometimes dangerous homes she knew before college.
She began attending college after a rough and unstable few years in high school, moving from one grandmother’s house to a friend’s house to her second grandmother’s house. She was living alone in a homeless shelter when she received the full scholarship during her senior year of high school.
“It was so amazing,” said Gardner, who only applied for this one scholarship. “Everything was fine from there.”
During Gardner’s first summer vacation, she received a SchoolHouse Connection scholarship. She had to sign her first loan to cover some housing costs for her second summer break.
Now in her third summer at CSU San Bernardino, she received an additional grant from GiveBack. She covers the remaining balance through her work on campus as a teaching assistant for children with disabilities.
While resources for students like Gardner often exist on California campuses, students are largely on their own when trying to access them.
“This student housing crisis boils down to a campus-by-campus approach, where each campus offers something different, and often what they provide is buried under web pages, lengthy resources, and deep in offices whose students aren’t even aware,” Roark said. “What I find is that our students don’t even know where to start in identifying these resources.”
Roark and other advocates are fueling a movement through a federal policy called the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2022, to hire a liaison officer on every college campus so students face the roaming know exactly who they can go to. when they are in need. These liaison roles, they say, would work similarly to the liaisons that every K-12 school across the country is federally mandated to help connect homeless young students to the resources available to them.
These K-12 liaisons are hired under the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act, which requires every public school district, county education office, and charter school to hire a local liaison to ensure that homeless youth from K-12 are identified and have education services coordinated for them to increase their chances of academic success.
After graduating next year, Gardner wants to use her life experiences to help children facing similar challenges.
“I want to be able to experience the world, meet all different types of children, help them in the situations they find themselves in – whether they are adopted, in foster care, homeless or have parents incarcerated,” she said. . “I just want them to know that you are not alone in this situation.”