Learning While Homeless

The other day, I ran a quick Google search – nothing too difficult or fancy: just the terms “umn” + “homelessness” + “students.” The results were interesting.

This past fall, the university received quite a bit of press for CEHD’s large study involving homeless and highly mobile students within the main counties of the Twin Cities. It found that, unsurprisingly, students under the “homeless” and “highly mobile” categories lagged behind in key areas of our current academic structure – math, for example.

That’s the bulk of that search. There were a few other articles interspersed, mainly regarding the fact that homeless individuals in the area tend to gather in UMN buildings when it gets extremely cold in the winter. As you continue on through the pages, it gets more and more diluted – student groups dedicated to stopping homelessness, panels connected to the university discussing the homelessness crisis in MN, things like that – but there’s one interesting thing missing.

Where’s the discourse around homeless students of the university itself?

For some reason, it boggles the mind to think of a university student being homeless. Higher education is definitely well within the domain of the rich and financially secure, but student poverty is a real issue. There are honestly no numbers I can find attached to our own university and our own “homeless and highly mobile,” yet the university delves into the numbers of local public education institutions with academic glee. Why would the university not fund a study in regard to its own student population?

Our resources for students in financial trouble are also bleak – nearly nonexistent, actually. I’d know – I was homeless in the summer of 2012, and I was on the brink of homelessness this past month.

As a queer student with a disability, I was referred to the Aurora Center and the GLBT Programs Office to find resources regarding housing. It’s generally understood that these resources are for after you lose your current residence, not before. You must go through the humiliating and, in regards to being able to rent ever again, debilitating process of being evicted and destroying your record. This is the price you must pay if you want help, even if you attempt to be proactive and try to get help before that gruesome path unfolds.

It’s interesting. As a queer, disabled Romani student, I offer a unique perspective that currently isn’t in scholastics today. (The amount of Romani scholars in the world can be counted on your hands – female? One hand. Disabled? One hand. Queer? Perhaps none, yet. All at once? None.)

The university is constantly discussing its dedication to diversity in its academics and in its research. When “diversity” is discussed, it’s usually in the contexts of “minority” groups – and I say “minority” in quotes because it’s such an ever-changing concept that attempts to belittle groups that have far more power than their label suggests. Underrepresented and underserved individuals, no matter what the reason, are considered diverse. However, they’re also the groups most likely to run into financial problems and be precariously housed during their university careers.

So, in regard to those facts, does the university really support diversity in its institution? To support diversity is to support the underlying issues that prevent diverse students from attending college – including precarious housing and financial issues. This is usually combatted by scholarships, but as I found out, sometimes that method isn’t a viable way to do this.

In my experience, the university subverts its own pledge to diversity by not fully supporting those who manage to jump through the hurdles it takes to even get here. That’s truly disappointing.

For those of you who are struggling, like me, I have some resources for you that no one at the university had.

Hungry? Keystone runs several food shelves in the areas surrounding campus, as does Catholic Charities. (You don’t have to be Catholic, trust me.)

Cold? Catholic Charities also has several shelters, along with some services geared toward helping you find stable housing in the long-term. If you’re 20 and under, Face2Face is also a wonderful resource located in St. Paul. (It’s trans*-friendly, too – a unique and precious asset.)

A really solid, useful tool is United Way’s 211 – there, they have resources stockpiled according to your zip code, and most resources also have easy to follow criteria regarding who’s eligible. It’s an awesome search engine of helpfulness. Everything from housing to food to legal services to family issues to inexpensive medical practices are available through 211. Use it.

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