We often think of the homeless during the holiday season. We don’t usually associate the term with college students. But it’s a problem most colleges have to face.
Kennesaw State University is the first Georgia college to develop a program devoted to helping homeless students. The CARE (Campus Awareness Resource & Empowerment) center has a food pantry for students in need and helps homeless students find a place to stay. The center is currently helping about 30 students.
“They’re housed in hotels, they’re living in their car, just recently we helped a student and he was ducking and dodging, in between hiding out in campus buildings, or couch surfing,” says CARE director Marcy Stidum.
Stidum has a color-coded system for the food pantry to keep track of who needs what.
Until recently, KSU freshman Jalyn Warden was living in a hotel. Warden says she was homeless in high school, but she didn’t expect to be in college.
“I graduated with honors,” she says. “I did the best that I could and I thought that when I got here, it was going to be together because I did everything I needed to do. But that’s not always the case. No matter how good you are, or how many scholarships you have or anything like that, life happens to everybody, and it’s rough.”
The CARE center was able to find Jalyn a campus apartment.
Other Georgia schools are using KSU’s program as a model. They’re collaborating through a network called Embark. The program recently asked each of the state’s 31 public colleges to assign a point person to help homeless students. Professor Dana Hartley fills that role at Georgia Tech.
“Once you find out there’s people that will help you and that there are services, and that other people are contacting other people on your behalf, you start to realize you are part of a network and that people do care about you, and I think that alone can help lift a student so much,” she says.
Georgia Tech, for one, has a scholarship program that covers all expenses for students in need.
David Myers manages the Embark network, which is based at the University of Georgia in Athens. He says more campuses now provide donated food and clothes.
"We assume that when students come to a research institution like UGA they have all the supports they need, and that’s not really the case,” he says.
Finding housing while class is in session is one thing, but it can be tougher during the holidays. Schools like KSU, UGA, and Georgia Tech allow students to stay in campus housing during holiday breaks. But Marcy Stidum says that’s not true at every school. That means some students will be surprised to learn they don’t have a place to spend the holidays.
Advocates say that’s one purpose of the Embark program. They hope as awareness grows, so will options for students.