A college education is our way out of homelessness and toward a fulfilling future. Will you help us make sure that other homeless and foster youth get the education they need for a better life?
Homeless youth and youth from foster care encounter many barriers to higher education -- a fact the three of us know all too well. Our education has been disrupted frequently when we’ve been forced to move from place to place. We have struggled without parental care or other adult support, and have lacked the basics that most people take for granted, like shelter and food. Higher education is our best hope for a better life.
That’s why we are working with NAEHCY (the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth) to advocate for the passage of The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, S. 1754. This legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate in November 2013 by by U.S. Senators Patty Murray (WA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).
The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act would eliminate the barriers to financial aid that we experienced. It would help make college more affordable for homeless and foster youth by providing in-state tuition, and by prioritizing homeless and foster youth for federal work-study programs. The legislation also would take away the worry and stress about lack of housing during breaks by requiring colleges to have a plan for how to assist youth with access to housing resources. Additionally, it would provide a single point of contact on campus for homeless and foster youth to help navigate the college experience. States like Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan have already designated these “Single Points of Contact” (SPOCs) with remarkable results.
We know how important this legislation is because of our own experiences. You can find out more about our stories below.
We were very fortunate to receive help to overcome some of the obstacles to college graduation caused by homelessness and foster care. But a level playing field shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Today, we personally know many youth who face nearly insurmountable odds because of their living situation, through no fault of their own. Help us help them change their future, and break the cycle of poverty, by urging your U.S. Senators to sign on as co-sponsors of S. 1754.
My name is Courtney S. and I am a graduating senior at Eastern Michigan University. In the fall, I’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. I have identified as both a former foster youth and as an unaccompanied homeless youth. As a child, I always knew that I wanted to attend college, but living in “survival mode” made that seem out of my reach. However, with the help of Alternatives for Girls (a transitional program in Detroit), community members and mentors, I started my freshman year in 2009 at a small private college in North Carolina. I was fortunate enough to receive many prestigious academic and merit scholarships, but rising tuition and housing costs led me back to Michigan. My first summer vacation as a college student, I spent back at the homeless shelter; other breaks were spent between friends, siblings, mentors and extended family. The transition from a highly structured institutional living program to a public university was challenging and I struggled with constant bouts of emotional instability due to unresolved childhood experiences and physical illness which took its toll on my academic performance. Housing and tuition costs also affected my college experience. I eventually found great support from the MAGIC program, a program for former foster youth, and made it back on the Dean’s List. I took a job as a live–in nanny, but family crisis and not being able to balance school with job demands led me back to transience. In the last six months, I’ve relocated 3 times in search of housing. Thankfully, I’m stable now. The MAGIC staff has supported me through this process, but this program is only available for former foster youth and not every campus has such a program. The new legislation would help to create supportive persons at every college, to help guide homeless and foster youth. I know firsthand that these professionals can be the difference between staying in school, and succeeding, or having to drop out.
My name is Jessie M. and I am a senior at Aquinas College working towards a degree in Community Leadership and Sociology. The past four years I have been challenged to overcome multiple barriers caused by homelessness, many of which are addressed by the new legislation. One of the most pressing challenges was the lack of housing for break periods. Stressing about break housing negatively impacted my ability to focus in school, right at the mid-term and final exams point when it was most crucial. Often, I would find myself searching Craigslist in class or when I should be studying or writing papers. After four years of raising the issue with school administrators, I asked the community to support me in my quest for a solution, and I am happy to say that Aquinas has taken the initiative to search for a permanent solution. However, not every school has taken this step, and there are thousands of students across the country who, like me, will return to homelessness during these periods. Another challenge that I faced was with the paperwork that colleges and universities use when determining a student’s financial aid eligibility-- the FAFSA. One year, I nearly lost my financial aid due to the difficulty of locating the ‘right’ person who could sign to say that I was an unaccompanied homeless youth. The new legislation proposes that once FAFSA paperwork is completed for homeless and foster youth (usually, upon college entrance), it is valid throughout a student’s college career, unless the college receives conflicting information. The succession of documentation will greatly decrease the stress of having to fill out paperwork beyond that which any other student would be required to submit annually.
My name is Brandy S. and I am working toward my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve experienced firsthand that homelessness doesn’t stop after you graduate from high school, or after you are accepted into college. The causes of homelessness persist and many new barriers arise. For me, being a first generation college student and an unaccompanied homeless youth, I had no idea how to apply to college, let alone fill out the FAFSA. Explaining and re-explaining why I did not live with my parents every year, to strangers, was a humiliating and demoralizing task that made me have to relive memories I was trying to move past. This bill streamlines this process so that other students don’t have experience this barrier. This bill would also require colleges to have a point of contact for unaccompanied homeless and foster youth to help them navigate the college experience. I believe this person could also help empower students to fiscally advocate for themselves. Right now, students in this situation have no one. Furthermore, this bill would help break the cycle of homelessness by requiring colleges to have a plan for how to assist youth with access to housing resources. Before I graduated from high school I had moved more than 15 times. I had lived with every friend and acquaintance that would let me sleep on their bed or couch. So when I made it to college I had exhausted every home that I was once welcome in. When I moved into the dorms my freshman year of college, it was the first time I had had my own bed in more than two years, but it was not a constant. During breaks, like winter and summer vacation, I still had to find a place to sleep. I was still homeless up until my sophomore year of college, when I moved off campus. Education should be accessible to all, and this bill eliminates some of the barriers that are preventing students like us from succeeding.