By the end of August, two students had already lived in an emergency-housing apartment dedicated to the homeless at Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta.
And the unit, one of the first of its kind in the country, had opened only two weeks earlier, says Marcy Stidum, coordinator of the university’s Campus, Awareness, Resource and Empowerment Center (CARE), for students who are homeless or aging out of foster care.
“It’s a growing trend—students are coming to our universities and technical schools trying to break the cycle of poverty, but are not aware of rising costs of education and how financial aid is decreasing,” says Stidum. “So they makes choices—they’ll opt out of a meal plan or they’ll opt out of housing and sleep in their cars.”
CARE is not supported financially by the university. Stidum won a $25,000 grant to create the handicap-accessible, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in a university residence hall. The exact location is kept secret so no one knows the student staying in the apartment is homeless.
It has only one bedroom to prevent any issues arising over gender or sexual preference. Stidum says a substantial number of homeless students are gay or transgender, and have been abandoned by their families.
The student also gets financial literacy lessons, and help finding employment and long-term housing, on or off campus. The inspiration for the apartment came from a similar program at Oregon State University, Stidum says.
For the past several years, a few campus housing units have been kept vacant for homeless students, says Nicole Hindes, coordinator of Oregon State’s Human Services Resource Center. “This is income university housing is choosing not to take because they believe this is important.”
When students move in, the Resource Center adds funds to their campus card so they can eat on campus. Students can stay for up to a month, and they have to meet with Resource Center staff to work on finding long-term housing.
“As income inequality continues to be the reality that data and research shows it will be,” Hindes says, “programs and supports like this will continue to be absolutely vital to ensure all folks can attend college.”