Homeless: not hopeless

Posted on 14 March 2016 by admin

Many students pursue education despite housing crisis

By: KATIE HAYES
News Editor

 

Last semester, 10 students sought help from the Student Assistance Program (SAP) regarding housing. This semester, four students have already approached SAP for housing assistance.

“We’ve had students that come in and they’re sleeping outside, but they come to school still,” Student Assistance Specialist Christina Hunter said. “They’re still motivated, which speaks a lot about the students here, but we definitely do as much as we can to help those students.”

While those students may not be identifiable to others, there are far more students without homes than SAP faculty previously assumed.

“It’s unbelievable to know how many students we have that are actually homeless,” Student Assistance Specialist and Manager Claire Martin said. “They’re living out of their cars or they’re living out of shelters and they continue coming to school.”

SAP assists students who are in crisis, or in danger of entering a crisis. The program was previously called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and only helped students who received public assistance. Two years ago, the program expanded their services to assist all students in need.

“We’ve opened up outside of TANF and renamed it Student Assistance to be inclusive of everyone that’s there,” Hunter said. “[We’re here] even for something that’s temporary or something that’s going on and students didn’t expect it to happen, or something that they’re dealing with currently.”

The Brown Bag Cafe, SAP’s most well-known and utilized resource, provides lunches for students who cannot afford them.

“Since I’ve been homeless this time, I’ve actually gained weight,” Meramec student Scott Roy said. “I think it’s because I’m eating on a more regular basis. I mean, the food is there, so I’ll get a plate and I’ll eat it. And I’ll eat [at Meramec]. Before, maybe I didn’t get as hungry all the time, I was used to eating less, but now it’s easier for me to get food.”

Roy, who is set to graduate this spring with his associate in applied science degree in graphic communications, often uses the Brown Bag Cafe for lunch. The only places he eats are at the Brown Bag Cafe or the shelter where he stays.

“I could have food stamps, but they’re a hassle,” Roy said. “They never mailed me a card again and I had my phone turned off trying to talk to them. I’ve got food at the shelter and then there’s the Brown Bag Cafe and so it’s okay to let the food stamps go.”

Roy has attended Meramec since 2010 and currently has a graphic design internship at the Cosand Center this spring with the marketing and communications department.

“It’s like, for five years, I’ve been walking along this road, this treacherous road that could have been better, but because of things I needed to learn, it was harder than maybe it needed to be,” Roy said. “Now I’m going to actually get to see fruits of it.”

Roy’s internship is once per week for academic credit.

“For me, that is like the highlight of my week,” Roy said. “I will get caught up in that mindframe, in that routine, so I get out of my routine a little bit. Also for me, that is the accumulation and the fruit for what I’ve been doing for the last five years.”

The shelter where Roy currently stays hosts people for 90 days, but they then must leave for 90 days before returning.

“Every shelter has a time limit as far as how long students can stay there,” Hunter said. “Some students, they can stay there for a few nights — others six weeks. So we’ll take whatever amount of time that is and try to get them into permanent housing. We may have to get them into several different shelters before we can get them permanent housing, but we try to just do it as quickly as possible. Sometimes it may take several weeks to a month to get someone in permanent housing, but again we try to do it quickly.”

Martin said while there are low-income apartments in St. Louis, the process is long and people remain on the waitlist for four to five years. Typically, the quickest solution is a shelter. Fellow Student Assistance Specialist Christina Hunter said SAP has placed students in shelters as soon as the same day a student requested assistance.

“Let’s say [students] are in a crisis and need to be in a shelter right away,” Hunter said. “We can get them in that shelter and then continue to work with them to get permanent housing. There are a lot of steps along the way, but we can help a student through every single step — and we do.”

Although shelters are considered a last resort when assisting students, many students don’t have people they feel comfortable reaching out to.

“If they do, we encourage them to reach out to a friend or family member,” Martin said. “If they don’t, then we look at other options — such as housing. We give them referrals for housing. Sometimes we will be on the phone with them making those kind of calls. So they make some calls, we make some calls, and together we come up with a solution.”

The reasons for housing trouble vary student-to-student — finances, troubles at home, difficulty keeping a job — but, the few resources a student does have affects the difficulty of their experience.

“It’s a little different for everybody,” Roy said. “Some people have cars, some people have jobs, some people want jobs, some people don’t. There are lots of different reasons people are homeless and that affects our attitudes and our abilities and our choices that we make and stuff.”

Students also have to decide whether post-secondary education financially makes sense for them — and to many it does. While minimum-wage in Mo. is higher than the national average, the employment reality still appears bleak to many students.

“A lot of those jobs, they’re not only minimum wage, but they’re not steady jobs in the sense that they’ll schedule you when they need you and if they don’t need you, they’ll send you home,” Roy said. “And you don’t get scheduled a lot. And now with Obamacare, anything that’s 30 hours, gets insurance so they won’t even want to give people 30 hours.”

While taking college courses is difficult during financial turmoil, many Meramec students continue to pursue education even if it takes years to obtain a degree.

“I never tell a student there’s no way you can’t do that, because I don’t know that,” Hunter said. “I can’t determine that just based off of just talking to someone. But what I can do is give them the tools to try their hardest to get there and equip them as much as possible to get there. Then after that it’s up to the student to make those choices to do those things to get to that goal.”

During Roy’s last semester before completing his degree, he has special permission to stay in the Central for Visual Technology (CVT) Lab past his shelter’s curfew.

“The CVT Lab closes at like eight o’clock at night,” Roy said. “We’re supposed to be in [the shelter] by nine o’clock. If you’re not in there, you can’t come in at night and you’re only allowed one night out a week. I can be here until like eight o’clock and then catch a bus and get back late because they know I’m not just coming in late because I’m some homeless bum. I’m coming in late because I’m actually doing something productive.”

While at least 14 students have asked SAP for housing assistance since Aug. 2015, both Martin and Hunter believe more students are homeless or severely struggling to simultaneously afford education and housing.

“A lot of times [students] feel like when they’re in a crisis, it’s just them and that no one else has gone through it and no one understands and knows,” Hunter said. “And a lot of times yes, students’ situations are unique, but they’re not alone and it’s not just them. There are a lot of people who have been going through the same things that they’ve been going through and have come out okay and have been successful.”

 

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