Home Editorial Student homelessness; a hidden epidemic

Student homelessness; a hidden epidemic

Grand Rapids Community College students hard at work in the Cook Academic Center. (photo courtesy The Tribune)

Students are facing more issues than just schoolwork, and that needs to be discussed. More students than many realize can’t afford basic needs.

With 39 percent of college students reporting that they are “housing insecure,”  9 percent being homeless at least once during the year, and 46 percent being “food insecure,” something needs to be done to provide help.

Students go through K-12 with free and reduced lunches, but what happens when they go to college?

Many students are facing multiple insecurities in their day to day life, amongst them being housing and food. However, not every case looks the same. People’s struggles are personal to them.

“Nine percent of our students said that within the last year they slept outside, so that’s the homelessness you think of,” said Lina Blair, Director of Student Life and Conduct at Grand Rapids Community College. “They slept outside, didn’t have another place to go, 9 percent. The other chunk, that 33 percent were housing insecure, meaning they couch surfed, couldn’t pay their rent in full, or at all, couldn’t pay their utility bill, risked losing their lease, or their homes were foreclosed on.”

Housing insecurity has many faces. Students living outside of their cars, or non-typical residences, such as storage units. Blair and her team have helped students in many different situations. 

“When 33 percent of any population is dealing with something, it feels safe to say this is somewhat normal,” said Blair. “If we can normalize it and help people realize that they are not the only person having this experience, that this is common and that we want to help. That has helped people come forward.”

This isn’t just a national issue, but also an issue in our community. With so many students facing these challenges everyday, schools should be open with conversations about what other students can do to help or where other students can get help if they are facing these insecurities. 

GRCC is one institution that has opened the dialogue of yes this is an issue and they are trying to help. Students can access the “Get Help” page on GRCC’s website for important information such as food assistance, emergency housing, as well as emergency funding among other resources. 

GRCC is looking to make an all-in-one stop for any basic needs that students would need help with, and are attempting to set up a physical location in the near future to create a safe space for students to go. 

“We want it to feel like more than just information, we want our students to feel like after they’ve worked with us that they have a crew,” said Blair, “… that we all care about each other, the name of the game for us is taking care of each other.”

GRCC has recently devoted themselves to speaking about this issue, but is that enough?

Earlier in the year, GRCC brought in a keynote speaker, Sara Goldrick-Rab, to speak on this issue, showcasing how community colleges can make a difference. 

“Do not ask them to perform their poverty when they ask for help,” said Goldrick-Rab in her keynote.

Community college students can help out, and it’s not scary. It can be as easy as paying attention. If you see someone who looks like they could be in a situation where they are housing or food insecure, ask. Just by looking after your friends, you could help someone.

If you take away anything, the easiest thing students on campus can do is not judge those who are struggling. As a member in a community, we have to help our neighbors not tear them down.