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Resources & Scholarships for Homeless Students

Learn why college students are experiencing home insecurity, how schools are helping them, and find resources and scholarships for those who need help.

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“College affordability” is the buzz phrase you hear on TV or read online, but there’s something that isn’t being discussed that goes beyond paying for tuition and books. The homeless college student population continues to rise, and the number of degree hopefuls experiencing housing insecurity is increasing, as well. In The Hope Center’s 2019 National #RealCollege Survey of 167,000 college students, nearly half reported being housing insecure and 17 percent said they were homeless in the previous year. Along with housing insecurity and homelessness, these students also experience unstable access to funds for tuition, fees, food, school supplies, support networks, and other items essential to academic success.

This guide offers insights into the college homelessness issue as well as helpful resources, scholarships, and tips for college students experiencing homelessness and home insecurity.

Where Can Homeless Students Get Help Right Now?

If you are a college student experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, know that you aren’t alone. Many schools and communities have resources available to help address this prevalent housing issue, and there’s no need to hesitate to reach out for assistance. You may need to communicate with multiple offices and organizations to get the help you need.

On Campus

Offices, organizations, and other resources at school may be available to help homeless students and those at risk of homelessness.

Student Wellness & Basic Needs

It’s increasingly common to find on-campus offices dedicated to student wellness and basic needs. Along with offering physical and mental health services, many schools understand the need to address other facets of wellness, like food and housing security. Student wellness and basic needs offices may act as hubs for many different resources and services like:

  • Student food pantries
  • Food and shelter programs
  • Mental health services
  • Physical health services

These offices are designed to help students with nonacademic needs, including homelessness and food insecurity. They may also be able to help students find resources off campus if needed.

The California State University System offers a great example of student well-being and basic needs resources across all their campuses. Resources include food pantries, nutrition assistance programs, health services and emergency housing solutions. Massachusetts recently became the first state to address student hunger and homelessness as part of state policy and launched a housing pilot program in 2019. Four-year colleges make up to five dorm beds available to homeless students, and the state reimburses them for the cost of occupancy and meals.

Emergency Housing

Emergency housing is generally a short-term solution for students facing an urgent housing crisis. Schools may offer their own emergency housing options, like filling unused dorm rooms or Panhellenic (Greek Life) houses, or they may have partnerships with affordable emergency housing facilities off campus. While emergency housing is short-term, schools’ emergency housing departments often help students find long-term housing solutions while they are in emergency housing. For example, Oregon State University places students in residence halls temporarily and helps them find a long term solution and basic needs stability. The University of California, Santa Barbara has a “housing first” model, where they prioritize immediate student housing and work toward more long-term, sustainable housing solutions after. To that end, the school has a range of different emergency housing options and vouchers.

Housing Vouchers and Emergency Funds

Most schools offer emergency grants, vouchers or other funds for students in dire situations. Housing vouchers and emergency funds are a form of immediate short-term aid generally reserved for students facing catastrophic events, like house fires, or other unforeseen financial emergencies.

While emergency funds and housing vouchers are often reserved for students in extreme and immediate housing emergencies, some funds exist to help students who are in unstable or insecure housing situations, too. Students who are unable to pay rent or utilities, owe back rent or are staying with other people temporarily may be eligible for housing vouchers or emergency funds. Clark College, for instance, partners with community organizations to help students with rent, back rent, move-in fees and security deposits.

Housing vouchers and emergency funds can look different from school to school. The types of funding, their amounts, how they can be used and by whom may vary, so ask your school for details. Fresno State’s Good Samaritan Fund is available year-round, but some schools don’t have funds available to use at all times, so knowing the application process and setting yourself up to get alerts when funding is available before an emergency happens can be extremely valuable.

This type of aid is not meant to be a continuous or long-term solution, and students typically must be in good academic standing and provide documentation of their emergency in order to qualify.

Additionally, if you’re one of the affected demographics addressed in the #RealCollege survey, these organizations may very well be able to assist you in finding solutions and help.

  • LGBTQ Organization
  • Minority Students Org or Orgs for specific minority groups
  • Students with Disabilities Campus Organizations
  • Include these below, plus any others you find in your research:
  • Counseling Center
  • Wellness Center
  • On-Campus Faith-Based Groups
  • Food Pantry

In the Community and Government Resources

There are many local and government resources students can use in conjunction with campus services, too.

  • 2-1-1 Dialing 211 connects students with health and human services agencies in their area. If you’re in a position where researching agencies online is difficult and time consuming, 211 can be helpful in providing guidance. The 211 website can also help point you toward resources in your area if you prefer browsing online.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) SNAP is a government program that helps people who are food insecure or at risk of being food insecure buy groceries. Many students qualify, but only around 20 percent of qualifying students take advantage of SNAP benefits. The amount of funding students receive is based on income, and each state has different eligibility requirements.
  • Food Pantries Students may have access to an on-campus food pantry, but off-campus options also exist. Churches, special interest groups, minority groups, elementary and high schools, community gardens and standalone food pantry facilities can all provide free food to anyone who needs it. There are generally no qualifications or applications to use food pantries. Students can use this online directory to find food pantries in their area.
  • Churches, Synagogues and Other Religious Establishments Religious organizations may provide aid for housing and bills. Some may even have their own affordable housing units. Church residences are gaining popularity as a solution to the current lack of affordable housing. Portsmouth Union Church in Portland, Oregon, for example, is currently working to combat the city’s cost-prohibitive housing by turning half of the church’s property into an affordable housing community. Residents do not need to be affiliated with the church. Portsmouth Union is also working with other churches in the area to help them replicate and create similar housing projects.
  • Minority and Special Interest Organizations Organizations serving the LGBTQ community and racial, ethnic and religious minorities can also be excellent resources for homeless and housing-insecure students. Seeking assistance through groups like these can not only offer housing stability but a community as well, which can be vital in precarious times. Urban Peak in Colorado offers a range of housing options for homeless LGBTQ young adults between 16 and 24 years old, including sober housing, housing for those with disabilities and housing specifically for other LGBTQ youth who want to go to school.
  • Shelters Students may be able to find shelters in their area that exclusively serve young people who are homeless or at risk. Eddy House in Nevada, for example, notes that homeless youth have very different needs than adults, so they should have their own housing options. Eddy House and shelters like it can also help young people connect with education resources to make college more attainable.
  • Foster Care Transitional Programs Once they age out of foster care, many students don’t have support systems in place to help them succeed in college. Many organizations are aware of this issue and have transitional programs to help young adults establish stability and needs security. The Home for Little Wanderers, the oldest child welfare organization in the country, has transitional programs and support services for those who have aged out.

Online Resources and Tools

Some national and regional nonprofits can point you to help and resources in your local community:

College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) Housing insecurity and food insecurity often go hand in hand, and food insecurity can decrease academic success. CUFBA works with campus food banks and pantries to help them provide the best support to students. Students can find food pantries and events addressing food insecurity.

Dreams for Change – Paths to Stability Dreams for Change offers multiple programs to help people reach financial and housing stability, including financial management, higher education placement and food accessibility.

Homeless Shelter Directory Students can find a comprehensive list of homeless shelters and food banks throughout the United States.

Mercy Housing Mercy Housing offers affordable, permanent housing in multiple states across the U.S. Students can search for Mercy Housing rentals in their area.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) NAEHCY provides a range of resources and insights for and about homeless students navigating higher education. Their resources include tips for filling out the FAFSA and what to expect when you enter college as a homeless student.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council Grantee Directory Students can find a list of Health Care for the Homeless projects. Projects receive federal funding to provide health care and support services to those experiencing homelessness.

Rent Assistance Programs This site allows students to search for rental assistance programs near them. They can even sort by organization type, like faith-based groups or government authorities.

Swipe Out Hunger Swipe Out Hunger is a unique initiative that allows college students to “donate” their unused meal plan swipes to fellow students. Helping college students access free meals in campus community spaces can help them stretch their funds and connect with peers at the same time.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) This federal department is a hub of information and resources pertaining to housing in the U.S. Homeless and home-insecure students can learn about affordable housing and access a variety of other resources.

Scholarships and Financial Assistance for Homeless College Students

Students can apply for scholarships to help offset the costs of college tuition and living expenses. Some scholarships are available specifically for homeless students and students in foster care, but there are many others for low-income and home-insecure students, too. Students should also be sure to fill out the FAFSA to apply for the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant can be used for tuition, housing and other school-related costs.

Scholarships for homeless students

Foster Care to Success Scholarships and Grants Foster Care to Success offers multiple scholarships, education programs and education and training vouchers to students who were part of the foster care system.

Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) Foster Child Tuition Waiver and Fee Assistance Program As the first state to address college homelessness and hunger through deliberate state policy, Massachusetts has a statewide office of financial assistance for students. The office offers a tuition waiver to eligible students who have aged out of foster care. The waiver covers the full cost of in-state tuition and fees for eligible programs of study.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) Scholarship NAEHCY awarded at least four scholarships of $2,000 each for the 2019-2020 academic year. Applicants must be homeless or have been homeless while attending school.

SchoolHouse Connection Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program SchoolHouse Connection’s scholarship program not only awards a minimum 10 scholarships of $2,000 each to homeless students, it also provides a peer support network and financial aid, mental health, legal and resource assistance.

Western Michigan University Foundation Scholarship Western Michigan University offers a full-ride scholarship to eligible students who are either homeless, in foster care or state custody, undocumented or eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch program.

Scholarships for home-insecure students

Scholarships that help specifically with room and board are also available. They are often region- or school-specific, so students should check with their school’s financial aid office and search for organizations in their areas. Here are some examples of housing scholarships offered by schools and organizations around the country.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) While not housing-specific, the FSEOG is a federal grant that offers additional funding to students with exceptional need. This grant is awarded in addition to the Pell Grant, but participating schools have different fund amounts available, so awards are limited.

Rebecca W. Watkin Scholarship Program Students living in an EAH affordable housing unit can apply for this scholarship. The scholarship is not for housing but is geared toward those who need an affordable place to live as well as tuition assistance. The award is approximately $2,500 per year.

Southern Scholarship Foundation Rather than a monetary scholarship, the Southern Scholarship Foundation provides rent-free housing near partnering colleges throughout Florida.

University of Kansas Student Housing Scholarships The University of Kansas offers over 50 different scholarships to help students pay for campus housing. The school also has multiple scholarship halls, where students pay a lower rate in exchange for completing weekly duties around the hall, like cooking and cleaning.

Youngstown State University Housing Grant Youngstown State in Ohio offers housing scholarships for students planning to live in campus housing or in the University Courtyard Apartments. Awards of $2,000 are given to full-time students based on need.

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