Hidden No More: Addressing Student Homelessness in Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary & Workforce

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Seventeen percent of postsecondary students surveyed by The Hope Center in 2018 say they experienced homelessness at some point that year; and more than half report feeling insecure about their housing situation in general, including the ability to pay rent or utilities. The Hope Center also found that students that were formerly identified as homeless youth or foster youth during their K-12 education were also at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness during their postsecondary education.

States are taking note and introducing legislation that could help postsecondary institutions keep tabs on students and provide additional supports when they are facing homelessness or housing insecurity. We have tracked 12 bills so far in the 2019 legislative session on this issue. Here are a couple of examples:

Washington passed S.B. 5800 to create a pilot program that will assist two- and four-year institutions with providing access to laundry facilities, storage, locker rooms and showers, reduced-price meals or meal plans, food banks, technology, and case management services for students experiencing homelessness. The program will also provide eligible students with access to short-term housing or housing assistance, especially during seasonal breaks.

The problem with housing is not just restricted to seasonal breaks, though. Many students seek alternative sleeping arrangements throughout the year. California is taking an approach to help individuals who sleep in their vehicles. A.B. 302 requires the governing board of a community college campus to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities for students to sleep in their vehicles, provided they meet the requirements of being a student in good standing with the college. The governing board must determine the action plan for implementation.

States are also looking at creating a position in postsecondary institutions to help identify, track, assist and provide services to students experiencing homelessness. Tennessee passed S.B. 763 and H.B. 1000, which require postsecondary institutions to designate a staff member in the financial aid office to serve as a liaison for homeless students. The liaison is responsible for understanding federal and state financial aid eligibility and resources for students experiencing homelessness. In Nevada, A.B. 461 is currently under consideration and would create a liaison in the department of employment, training and rehabilitation to assist postsecondary students experiencing homelessness.

These 2019 bills illustrate the types of initiatives that can provide services and assistance to postsecondary students who are experiencing — or at risk of experiencing — homelessness.

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Damion Pechota is a former senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States.

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