BY KATARZYNA SLIWINSKA, Homelessness Census intern at the City of Olympia
My interest in homelessness among students of higher education was sparked by my work as an intern, contracted to conduct the Thurston County Homeless Census Report. As we were nearing the end of January, I began my research on homelessness among college students, helping with promotion, or simply by completing the survey. With that came a request from my supervisor to continue a project that was started a few years ago by another intern. The project involved a survey based on an instrument developed by the Washington State of Commerce, as well as other initiatives pertaining to homelessness at Evergreen. I am writing to invite interested students and other members of the community to participate in the project by taking part in its development,
On a single day in January 2013, according to the Annual Point-In-Time Homeless Census Report, 20,336 people were homeless in Washington State. This snapshot of who is homeless and why takes place every year across all counties in order to quantify needs, assess resources, and refine new strategies. In Thurston County alone, 686 people were found to be homeless on Jan. 24, 2013. These results successfully capture homelessness in the urban hub, however, in spite of the ongoing outreach efforts, the census is unable to reach all the people of rural communities and people “off the grid” of social services. On top of that, there continues to be a lack of information on homelessness in higher education all over the country. Even though 58,000 applicants nationwide self-identified as homeless in the 2013-2014 academic year on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), research on homelessness at colleges and universities is scarce. Which begs the question – how many homeless students attend The Evergreen State College?
In the past, two surveys were conducted in order to illustrate the reality of homelessness among college students at Evergreen. The surveys found some startling results; in 2011, 46 students self-identified as homeless, or lacking fixed, regular, or adequate housing. In 2012, 35 students reported being homeless at the time of the survey. This year, for the third time, we hope to continue the examination of homelessness in higher education, and with that knowledge make recommendations on how to better support students who are struggling with homelessness. Many universities overlook the issue of student homelessness, and fail to provide resources such as meals, shelter, or contact points. Fortunately, the Evergreen community is conscious of some of the students’ needs, and has taken steps in providing support for the struggling.
Recently, Evergreen opened a satellite of the Thurston County Food Bank on campus. It also continues to operate the free store, which provides clothing and other items available for anyone visiting the HCC. However, many other needs remain unaddressed, such as safe sleeping areas open especially during the cold weather, 24-hour public restrooms, or contact points. By conducting the Homelessness in Higher Education Survey, we hope to raise awareness, to find out the needs of students, and to involve the college in helping these students.
Often, services that helped homeless children and youth in kindergarten through high school cease to support students attending postsecondary institutions. Additionally, students who have not been homeless prior to attending college may experience situations that force them into homelessness, and may not be aware of resources available. Situations that may have caused student’s homelessness might include poverty, eliminated or reduced work opportunities, low public assistance, lack of low-cost housing, illness, or an intolerable roommate situation, such as domestic violence, drug use, or extreme incompatibility. When people find themselves with no place to stay at night they resort to sleeping in cars and public spaces, camping in woods, or “couch surfing” – situations which put them in danger.
Students without access to housing, workspaces, showers, or food, struggle to balance education and other responsibilities. To help these students achieve their educational goal, as well as raise their quality of life, programs need to be devised to accommodate homeless students. In order to create such programs and know what kind of programs need development, we must eliminate the statistical gap present in postsecondary institutions.
For the next month, we will coordinate campus events promoting the Homelessness in Higher Education Survey, as well as conduct the survey both in person and online, in order to establish a firm ground for continuing this project annually and most importantly create a momentum for change.
Katarzyna Sliwinska is the Homeless Census intern at the City of Olympia. You can contact her to get involved at email@example.com or (425)-505-0027. If you want to learn more about homelessness in higher education or in Thurston county, you can check out the Thurston County Homeless Census Report on the www.co.thurston.wa.us website.