Just three weeks ago, California voters passed two propositions expected to battle homelessness in our community. With tent encampments growing in cities across the area and people lining up as early as 8:00 am for a shelter bed, it’s clear that homelessness has reached a watershed moment in California.
What’s perhaps less obvious is that homelessness is a deepening problem for college students. Once they turn 18, many no longer receive financial support from their parents. This is particularly true for college- enrolled foster youth who often emancipate at age 18. For them, stretching their dollars means having to choose between paying for classes and books, or housing and food.
It’s easy to assume once you’ve made it to the doors of higher education, all you’ve got to do is study hard, attend class, and stay focused. But, a recent study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that more than one-third of the college students they surveyed are housing or food insecure. The findings for former foster youth are even more alarming: 60% were housing insecure and one in four had experienced homelessness in the past year.
When foster youth age out of the system at age 18 it's not always a cause for celebration. The financial burdens of aging out are overwhelming. In addition, all young people from foster care struggle with some degree of trauma that affects their ability to develop relationships or plan for the long-term. It's no surprise that during a recent community panel held by Tipping Point Foundation to discuss homelessness, experts shared that 1 in 4 young people experiencing homelessness have been involved in the foster care system.
What's striking are foster youth's high levels of persistence towards achieving their career goals, in light of the odds stacked against them. Many are working full-time while they attend school, while others are dutifully managing the work, school, and parenting triad. Our college scholarships go a long way towards helping current and former foster youth pay their living expenses while they pursue their career dreams.
College should be about getting good grades and planning for your career, instead of worrying about where you'll sleep on any given night. As a community, we must recognize and change the fact that homelessness is a barrier to the greatest gift of all: a college education.