On February 12, the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice published #RealCollege 2020, the fifth annual #RealCollege survey on basic needs insecurity among college students. In 2019, nearly 167,000 students from 171 two-year institutions and 56 four-year institutions responded to the #RealCollege survey. The results indicate:

  • 17% of respondents were homeless in the previous year
  • 46% of respondents were housing insecure in the previous year
  • 39% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days

The report’s findings highlight the need for improving policies and practices, including the identification of students experiencing homelessness. For example, 12% of respondents at two-year institutions experience homelessness, but do not self-identify as homeless, while 10% of respondents at four-year institutions experience homelessness, but do not self-identify as homeless. According to the report, “The vast majority of students who experience homelessness temporarily stay with a relative or friend, or couch surf. Using an inclusive definition of homelessness allows more students to receive the support they need. The Brookings Institution recently found that “academic outcomes for doubled-up homeless students and other homeless students are almost indistinguishable from one another.”

The report also found significant disparities across student groups.

  • Among racial and ethnic groups, American Indian, Alaskan Native or Indigenous students have the highest rates of homelessness, followed by Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian students. As with the other basic needs insecurities, rates of homelessness among White students are lower than most of their peers.
  • Returning citizens and former foster youth experience homelessness more than double the overall rate (17%).
  • Black and Indigenous students, students identifying as nonbinary or transgender, students enrolled part-time, students with children, and students who are former foster youth or returning citizens, are at greater risk of overall basic needs insecurity.
  • The majority of students (70%) who experience food insecurity, housing insecurity, and homelessness are employed. Among working students, those who experience basic needs insecurity often work more hours than other students.
  • While most students report receiving A’s and B’s, students who experience food insecurity or homelessness more often report grades of C or below, compared to students who do not face these challenges.

SchoolHouse Connection is particularly concerned about youth experiencing homelessness in higher education, including youth who are parenting. These young people face unique barriers to financial aid and in the transition from high school, and they also need comprehensive services to address histories of trauma, abuse, neglect, and severe family conflict.

Take Action:

1. Policy Advocacy

At the federal level, two bipartisan bills would help youth experiencing homelessness succeed in their pursuit of higher education.

  • The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019 – HEASHFY (S.789/H.R.1724) is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would ensure that homeless and foster youth benefit from college access programs, have access to financial aid without burdensome and prohibitive documentation, and receive the support they need to stay in school and graduate. Learn more and take action.
  • The Housing for Homeless Students Act, H.R. 4865/S.767, is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would update the LIHTC Program to allow full-time students to live in LIHTC housing if they have experienced homelessness within the last seven years. The bill also includes homeless or formerly homeless veterans pursuing full-time education. Learn more and take action.

At the state level, a growing number of state legislatures have passed bills to help youth experiencing homelessness receive the support they need to succeed in higher education. See our state policy page for bills that have passed, and bills that are in progress.

2. Awareness/Training 

Providing training to faculty and staff about the unique challenges of youth experiencing homelessness can help build awareness and support for students. SchoolHouse Connection’s archived higher education webinars are great professional development opportunities to learn from other campuses, and stay tuned to our upcoming webinars as we feature more innovative programs. 

3. Get Tips for Successful Strategies

SchoolHouse Connection’s tip sheets for helping youth experiencing homelessness succeed in college highlight best practices from institutions across the country. These living documents are updated regularly to provide new and innovative practices. Topics include:

    • Strategies for Transitioning from High School to College
    • Strategies for Identifying Homeless College Students
    • Strategies for Housing On and Off Campus
    • Strategies for Accessing Financial Aid
    • Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Campus-Based Programs
    • Strategies for Parenting Students

For More Information

For more information about SchoolHouse Connection’s work to support youth experiencing homelessness to and through higher education, please contact Jillian Sitjar, Higher Education Program Manager. 

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