College Students Hide Hunger, Homelessness

Note: One student in this story is being referred to as Michael Smith to protect his identity due to the social stigma attached to homelessness.

If you’re a college student and think you have it rough because you can’t afford a new ipad or a tropical vacation, you may want to remind yourself that the person sitting next to you in science class may have it a bit harder than you. In fact, they may not even know where they will rest their head tonight.

For countless college students and their families, rising tuition and a harsh economy are presenting new challenges as college bills roll in.

This has led to a little-known but growing population of financially strained students, who are facing hunger, debt and even homelessness.

As a stressed economic system continues to take its toll on households, students find themselves unable to pay for even the barest of necessities.

An article published in July of 2010, by National Public Radio (NPR) followed the efforts of college students and administration at UCLA to address the situation of school students, homelessness, and hunger. Homeless college students typically will not talk about their scenario with professors or staff members for a number of reasons, according to the study.

Some are single parents operating on the coat tails of an abusive relationship. Others are students who came from middle class households, but are now struggling immediately after the loss of jobs and homes. Still others have come from low income backgrounds and are determined to work their way out of poverty.

Michael Smith, a communications major at UCC, described sleeping on friends’ couches, showering in the PE locker room, and worrying about paying for the upcoming term just after losing his job.

“I try to make it look like I just came in from a workout or something so that people won’t know I am just using the shower because I’m homeless,” Said Smith. “I sometimes fall asleep on the couches in the student lounge but other people do that too, so no one really notices or thinks twice about it. I blend in well. I don’t think anyone even knows I’m homeless.”

According to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, 47,204 college students applying for financial aid in 2009, checked a box that identified them as homeless. 

Similarly, in a survey performed at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in 2010 found that 9.7 percent of the 1,061 students asked identified themselves as homeless.

These are among some of the very few statistics available due to the widespread silence on the issue.

George Mathews, a 59 year old UCC student, has been homeless for nearly 3 months. He is currently staying in a local motel where he says the landlady is nice enough to let him slide on his rent sometimes when he can't afford to pay. The motel charges $40 per night.

Matthews spends the first half of his days going to classes and the second half washing windows at a local rest area to earn money. "I used to be a successful Persian rug auctioneer and I owned over 40 rental homes," Said Mathews. "Now I have nothing."

But, Matthews doesn't let his situation get him down. As a former minister he looks at life as though everything has a silver lining and tries his best to look at the positive side of things.

"I see it my struggles as a blessing in a way. I am learning and experiencing things that are helping me grow as a person and I can use what I learn to help other people."

Being a college student is difficult in any situation. Throw in not knowing where you will sleep at night, where you will do your homework or if you will get to eat dinner and it is almost impossible. But, it can be done.

 “Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to,” anonymous.


The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.