Editor’s Note: The Mainstream staff normally don’t share their own stories, but the topic of homelessness is so personal and so closely related to identity that this story must be told.
Homelessness can happen in a heartbeat, sometimes to those who least expect it. It’s not only about what the movies and TV shows portray: mental illness, substance abuse, dirt, and skittish nights under bridges. It is people who have given up everything to serve their country, single mothers who vow their babies will have a better life than they had, and young dreamers who hope to one day help make the world a better place.
Homelessness, a tragedy spread far-and-wide all around the world, is a rising trend in college students as tuition costs sky rocket alongside the cost of living. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Education reported that at least 32,000 college students were homeless.
In April 2018, researchers at Temple University and Wisconsin HOPE Lab surveyed 43,000 students at 66 institutions across the United States and found that nine percent of college students were homeless.
Of students who were homeless, 21 percent felt unsafe where they were living. Another 46 percent of community college students struggled to pay for housing and utilities, according to the survey.
The researchers conducting the survey also found that 36 percent of college students were housing insecure, while another 36 percent were food insecure. Of community college students, 42 percent struggled to get adequate food, with nine percent having gone at least a day without anything to eat because they cannot afford it.
In Douglas County, the Oregon Housing Alliance (OHA) reported that “One in 28 students experienced homelessness in the 2016-2017 school year.” Housing agencies have also identified a one to two percent occupancy rate, meaning only one to two percent of all available housing is currently open for new renters.
For every 100 families facing poverty, there is a need of 1,645 affordable units needed to satisfy the demand, but there are only 29 available, according to OHA. Not only is there not enough housing, a worker making minimum wage must work 56 hours a week to even be able to afford a two bedroom apartment.
Housing shortages can lead to many problems: family stress, people staying longer in abusive relationships, sanitation problems, and even an increase in anxiety and depression, along with other mental illnesses.
It can also lead to beloved animals being turned over to shelters and some even being euthanized, while other owners choose to live in tents so that they may keep their pets.
Reaching out to students and those in the community to talk about this highly personal topic has been difficult, so I’m sharing my own story.
I never thought that I would be one of the statistics. I never thought it would only take a second to lose everything. I’d always had my life planned out; I pictured myself graduated with a high-paying job, a husband and a cute little house overlooking the river by the time I was 23. But here I am at 22, finding that life is not so easily predicted.
I work all night, trying to be a role model to the teenage girls I work with, and as the sun rises and the sky is painted in hues of orange and pink, I drive through neighborhood after neighborhood with drooping eyes, searching for a “FOR RENT” sign. Before the exhaustion can set in, I pack up my book bag and rush to class, where I strive to pay attention, but find my thoughts wandering.
Will I have a meal to eat tonight? What about my fur babies? Will I be able to get some sleep? Or will I lie awake, just a hollow shell with a frightened heart and a pocket-knife tucked underneath me as my only line of protection? Will I be alright until tomorrow? Why hasn’t God answered my prayers yet? Am I not doing enough?
The questions never cease as I turn on my computer and glance over the ads on Craigslist a hundred times, hoping this will be the last time I’ll have to look. Disappointment washes over in a wave as the cycle begins again, day after day as it has for the past six months now. But still I rise and still I try, because the truth is, I haven’t lost everything.
I may not have a home right now, and I may not always have a meal, but I do know that I’m not completely without. I have a short-term housing solution. I have pets who love me unconditionally. I have people who care, and I have resources when it gets too hard. I have my faith and God’s promise that He walks beside me through the storm. But most importantly, I have hope, because no matter how hard it gets or how dark it gets, there will always be hope.
Emily Dickinson said it best: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without words, and never stops at all.”
To UCC students struggling with homelessness and food insecurity, ASUCC provides student services for those facing difficult times, including the following assistance: the Backpack Program, Project C.A.N.S. Food Pantry, Emergency Gas Vouchers/Subsidized Bus Passes, and the Textbook Reserve.
To find out more about these resources and those out in the community, you can stop by River Hawk Central in the Student Center or check out https://www.umpqua.edu/student-services to read the Student Resource Guide. •