Homeless College Students

Homelessness among college students is a growing crisis
Homelessness among college students is a growing crisis across the country

I’m going to be honest. Attending a school like the University of Southern California can sometimes make you forget that the majority of students don’t actually have the privilege to regularly splurge on designer clothes, eat at trendy upscale restaurants, drive luxury sports cars, and take expensive vacations to exotic places. It isn’t uncommon to walk through campus and see people rocking the latest high end clothing or overhear conversations about some exclusive club event. But this lifestyle isn’t accessible to everyone. It’s also one of the biggest stereotypes about USC also know as the University of Spoiled Children. A common belief is that “trust fund babies” are the majority of the student population. However, more than a third of the student population receives need based financial aid. The study body is extremely diverse with people from all backgrounds and life experiences. This includes homeless students which like I said, is easy to forget in the midst of an environment like USC because many associate homelessness with visibility. But sometimes the less visible forms are an actual representation of homeless populations at colleges and universities.

An important step toward recognizing that many students experience homelessness in higher education is dismantling the stereotypical picture of what homelessness looks like. Housing and food insecurity is a common struggle among college students. Several factors contribute to this such as escaping an abusive household, no longer being able to afford rent, or the lack of a supportive network. The rising cost of tuition and housing at certain institutions and cities creates additional stress on college students and families. Many face financial hardships in order to pay for textbooks and other supplies for school. It is common for students to skip meals or replace nutritious meals for inexpensive, unhealthy options. Financial aid is limited at some schools and many students don’t qualify which results in having to work several jobs. All of these scenarios can potentially result in homelessness for many students. When a student ends up in the vulnerable position of being homeless, it is increasingly difficult to remain in school. This can make it harder to escape this vicious cycle of basic needs insecurities.

School is already hard enough as it is. Making sure to stay on top of assignments and study for exams for every class is tough. The process of going through higher education takes a toll on our mental and physical health. This is undoubtedly much harder and emotionally taxing on homeless students. Lacking basic needs such as consistent meals and secure housing has a negative effect on overall academic performance. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from certainly impacts your ability to focus on other tasks. When people don’t have access to basic needs and resources, other tasks or life obligations seem pointless. Seemingly simple and mundane actions like finding a place to do homework or study is a problem many face. Further, not having access to stable Wi-Fi makes this near impossible for some students. This is increasingly relevant right now as many colleges decided to fully move to online. Additionally, worrying about finding a safe place to sleep makes it difficult to focus on school. Housing insecurity negatively impacts college and career success and this is important to consider when discussing the various disparities that exist in society.

It is impossible to know the exact number of homeless college students due to the social stigma surrounding homelessness. Many students might not want to seek public assistance despite not having basic needs. USC has launched several initiatives toward helping the school’s homeless population. However, many students are hesitant to walk into the office offering alternative housing resources because they simply don’t want to be treated differently. This problem is extremely damaging and the issue of homelessness among college campuses needs to be talked about in a manner that recognizes this issue is more common than expected. Homelessness and poverty appear at even the most prestigious colleges. Housing insecurity can affect anyone and hard circumstances can fall upon anyone. The experiences of homeless students often go unnoticed at USC due to its stereotype of being home to wealthy, spoiled students. Yoojin Park (a pseudonym to protect her identity) has shared her experience of being a homeless student at USC in a 2019 article. “How do you bring up the fact that you haven’t eaten for two days when your classmates are talking about their spring break trip to Paris?” Park asked. She shared her struggles in class stating, “I just want people to know that I’m here,” she continued. “That I’ve been homeless, that I’m a sex worker and I’m amongst you.” So, although it isn’t always visible or “in your face”, countless college students are experiencing and struggling with homelessness. Even at The “University of Spoiled Children”.

undergrad @ USC