There is a homelessness epidemic in our country and it extends to college campuses as well.
When you say college homelessness it sounds like an oxymoron, the stereotype surrounding college students is that they live in dorms and that is covered by the school. However, with the increasing cost of on-campus living, colleges are actively pushing students out by rising dorm costs. In fact, 50% of homelessness in the Houston region is caused by economic hardships.
Homelessness in Houston has dropped 63% since 2011, with 3,223 people experiencing homelessness at any given moment in the Houston region as of 2022 according to the Homeless Count & Survey.
In 2021, the then-freshman computer information systems sophomore, Isela Garcia, found herself homeless and living out of different places on and off campus, after finding out that her dorm was not covered by her financial aid after moving into the Cougar Village dorms.
“I went to financial aid, and they had told me, we can’t really do anything like either you pay the money or you need to get out of the dorms.” she said. “It’s either I’m gonna put the burden on my parents and pay off like $5000. Or like I could just pay the cancellation fee, which was 600 at time. And like I’m gonna get out the dorms. So that’s what I did.”
As a first-generation student, there was not any help with filling out the FAFSA application. Garcia, who has four legal last names, missed one and it led to some trouble verifying and getting the aid on time.
Without a car, Garcia spent the first few weeks of her college career living out of open buildings and bathrooms on campus. Fortunately, her brother was able to find her a temporary living situation and she spent two semesters on a friend’s couch before she was asked to leave at the beginning of the summer.
“I fortunately, I had a car at this time, so I would like sleep in my car, like at the UH garages,” she said. With a lot of hard work, Garcia was able to get an off-campus apartment at the start of the fall 2022 semester. “It’s just a lot of work. I have two jobs, You know, trying to pay my bills. So it requires like 2 jobs to pay rent. But overall, it’s been going alright. Not too bad.”
While Garcia never officially declared her housing difficulties, she did ask financial aid services for support but they weren’t able to be of help.
“Well, they really didn’t offer any resources. They were just like either you pay the money or you need to get out of there. That’s basically what they told me. They never really gave me any redirection. They didn’t refer me to anybody.”
The official UH housing page just offers links to the housing website, as well as off-campus resources such as links to Coalition for the Homeless, a non-profit org., and emergency shelters. There are no direct resources for students like Garcia to reach out to and get help from.