Homeless students grow anxious as semester comes to a close

Most college students around the country are counting down the days until summer. But Courtney…

Georgia (Apr 25, 2014) — Most college students around the country are counting down the days until summer. But Courtney Smith, a senior at Eastern Michigan University, says she dreaded the summers the most.


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“It’s not something that we can necessarily see,” Smith says. “You could be sitting in class and nobody could know of your situation … It’s not a visible population because it’s not the face of homeless that we think about.”

Smith one of more than 58,000 students that are classified as homeless college students, according to federal data from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY).

The vast majority of universities don’t have a program in place to provide housing for these students during the summer, according to Cyekeia Lee, the NAEHCY’s national higher education liaison for homeless youth.

For Smith, family conflict has forced her to move around since she was 16 years old. After graduating high school, she first went to school at Saint Augustine’s College in North Carolina.

She tried to mend relations with her parents that winter break but was kicked out of the house four days before her break was over. After that, she started to rethink her college career.

“Should I not have sought out the college dorm experience and just went to a community college?” she says. “The whole journey has been really challenging.”

At Saint Augustine’s, Smith didn’t feel like she had the support she needed to survive as a homeless student.

“I have felt like nobody was there and I felt alone and I felt very invisible,” she says.

She decided to transfer to Eastern Michigan University, partly because it had a year-long housing option, alleviating her summer struggles. Now, she is settled in an apartment, will be graduating soon, and doesn’t identify as a homeless youth. She has now begun to advocate on behalf of homeless youth.

Lee says the long summer months, when financial aid runs out, can be the worst for homeless students.

She has seen many of them end up living on the streets, in barns, in trees, on park benches or “wherever they can find to lay their head because they have nowhere else to go.” Many elite, private universities lack any support systems for these students, she says.

Lee and her team are working on grassroots movement to structure university support systems for unaccompanied students, including implementing a single point of contact and a yearlong housing program.

Kennesaw State University (KSU) in Georgia is one of the handful of universities that offers its students year-long housing, according to Marcy Stidum, who runs KSU’s Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment (CARE) Center, a homeless support center.

Stidum has helped more than 70 students, many of whom come to the CARE center after ending up in conduct council because of extended fines or after their GPA drops because they can’t afford the books. Sometimes, it’s parental death; sometimes, it’s parental abandonment.

“(The students’) stories make you know how much we can do as a campus, if we unite and say this is a priority,” she says.

Tyroneka Fowler says she needed that type of support. The junior at Louisiana State University says she grew up in an abusive home. She has gone through three apartments and three cars in her three college years so far. She couldn’t afford the housing rents and her cars were repossessed or wrecked.

“I don’t have a family support system. I don’t know financial stability,” Fowler says.

At one point this semester, she was living out of her car in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

“I’ve had to deal with a lot of things to make it,” she says. “I have no support. I have nothing.”

Juggling jobs, bills and classes, Fowler’s GPA began to drop and her financial aid was cut off. Now, she has one more grade to bring up and, once she gets her aid back, she is going to make better choices, she says.

“I plan to do many great things,” she says. “I’m going to be that attorney. I’m going to law school.”



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu