No home for the holidays: How to help homeless students over break

Many students spend Thanksgiving and winter breaks stuffing themselves on holiday meals, sleeping…

Georgia (Nov 20, 2015)

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Many students spend Thanksgiving and winter breaks stuffing themselves on holiday meals, sleeping in and catching up with family and high school friends. But not all view the upcoming academic breaks with enthusiasm. Shuttered dorms mean one vulnerable population has nowhere to go. 

About 58,000 students in America self-identify as homeless on their FAFSA.

Experts agree it's best to reach out to these students early in the school year—or before classes even begin. But although Thanksgiving is just one week away, it's not too late to get started.

Repurpose resources already in place

"One thing [schools] can do is to look to what they already have," says Barbara Duffield, director of policy and programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY).

She notes the organization's "A Home for the Holidays" campaign offers actionable tactics: For example, if certain residence halls remain open for international students or athletes, let those in need stay there over the breaks, or contact community partners that offer transitional living programs and shelters. Schools also can use Student Support Services funds to pay for temporary housing under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. 

"We are not saying colleges need to provide the housing, but they need to have at least a plan to make sure housing isn't a barrier during academic breaks for homeless and foster youth," Duffield says. "We have definitely had students accept offers of help that are not really well intended, and then they end up in an unsafe situation." 

Proactive marketing is key

One of the most difficult parts of helping these students is actually finding them, says Marcy Stidum, director for the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education (CARE) at Kennesaw State University (KSU). 

"It is a hidden population and some are very resistant to help," Stidum says. "Saying you're homeless is also accepting all the stereotypes and all the labels and all the things that come with it." 

That's why it is so important to make sure students are at least aware of the services available, so that if they need help they can reach out for it. Stidum's center connects with students through classroom presentations, student group partnerships, and homeless and foster youth liaisons.'

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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