By Rachel Gobep
Students sometimes joke about surviving on ramen noodles and barely getting by, but there is a larger problem among universities across the nation: student homelessness. This is an issue that may go unheard of, but it occurs right under the noses of the community at Youngstown State University.
According to results published by researchers at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin in March 2017, 14 percent of community college students are homeless and one-third go hungry.
The rate of student homeless has increased since their last study in 2015, where 4,000 community college students in 10 states were surveyed — showing 13 percent of community college students as homeless and one-fifth did not have satisfactory nutrition.
The 2017 study surveyed community colleges on a larger scale, with 70 community college and about 33,000 students in 24 states participating in the research.
According to a New York Times article in 2017, 32,000 college applicants were identified as “unaccompanied homeless youth” on federal student aid forms in 2015–16, which is considered to be a low count.
Susan Laird, instructor in the department of sociology, anthropology and gerontology and director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said she became aware of student homelessness at YSU in the spring 2017 semester and prior to this had no idea that there were homeless students attending the university.
She said she had a confidential discussion with a student, who said he was homeless, after seeing him quickly eat his lunch. This led her to coming in contact with other homeless students on campus.
“These are kids that come to YSU and somehow they are either on scholarships or loans for their tuition, but they don’t get any of the housing or extra perks because they can’t afford it,” Laird said. “A lot of them have also been told to leave their home … at 18 and figure it out.”
She said the students discussed the fact that they needed hygiene items such as shampoo, razors and feminine products. Laird said she was able to bring products in to her office to help them.
Additionally, she said two of the homeless students at YSU were victims of human trafficking and had been out on the streets for quite a while.
Laird said the homeless students that she has spoken to are “good students” by all accounts, are not damaging property and do not do drugs.
She said the students have bank accounts, driver’s licenses and will use the clinic at YSU if they need medical care.
“I never want folks to think that these kids are drug addicts, trying to screw the system. They aren’t,” she said. “They’re serious about their education, but just can’t afford what it takes to live on campus or any of the housing near campus.”
She said she believes that homeless students are successful academically because they do not have anything else to do.
“Their academic world is their world. You’re not going to find them hanging out at Dunkin’ Donuts or in Kilcawley because they don’t want to be seen,” Laird said.
She said the students have a network on campus and look out for one another.
Laird said that most of the students were homeless during winter break and did not have a place to stay, which “broke her heart.”
“That’s my knowledge of the population and I’m guessing [the homeless student population] may be bigger than what I’m aware of,” she said.
Laird said she does not know what the university could do to help the homeless student population, unless it converted a house on campus into a low-income, no-income dormitory.
“I would love to see faculty reach out to these students … Maybe there is something faculty can do to be more aware in their classrooms,” she said.
Nicole Kent-Strollo, director of Student Outreach & Support, said she believes student homelessness at YSU is a bigger issue than the students she directly works with.
She said occasionally it will be brought to her attention through various means. For example, a student may not have an address listed on their application or someone is aware of student that is homeless.
Kent-Strollo said that although she does reach out to homeless students that she is aware of, she has to be respectful of what the students want and they sometimes do not want to accept help.
She said student homelessness can be a result of a number of variables, but it can be related to mental illness or untreated mental illness.
Resources to Utilize on Campus
The Career Closet, the Student Government Association Student Food Pantry and Student Counseling Services are three resources available to students, all located in Kilcawley Center. Students also have access to the Mercy Health Student Health Center in Kilcawley House.
The Career Closet is co-operated by Student Outreach & Support, the YSU SGA and students studying fashion and interior design.
According to Kent-Strollo, who is currently supervising the Career Closet, it provides formal attire such as suits, dress shoes and ties. It also has professional clothing like nursing scrubs and lab coats on loan, which is free to students that are in need of such items.
Kent-Strollo said she also plans to incorporate winter coats, gloves and hats into the Career Closet. She said some students are not aware of how cold it is in the Youngstown area until there is a cold snap and some may not be able to afford warm clothing.
According to a Jambar article in 2016, the idea of the SGA Student Food Pantry surfaced after survey results came in from the Student Union, which showed that every person who took the survey either had problems acquiring food or knew someone that did.
President of the SGA Rayann Atway said the association aims to help students that are facing food insecurity by providing them with nutritionally balanced meals and other items.
The SGA and Atway recognize the importance of anonymity and their goal is to meet the needs of students in a private and comfortable space.
Students can also take advantage of the free counseling services on campus.
Another resource, the Mercy Health Student Health Center can be used by all students with a valid YSU ID and have the ability to schedule an appointment with a family nurse practitioner or physician. It is a limited service facility and may refer a student to an immediate care facility, a family physician or an Emergency Center for medical care. These services are free to students.
Students are also encouraged by YSU to reach out to the Help Network of Northeast Ohio, which provides 24/7 crisis intervention, suicide intervention and prevention, referrals, support services and counseling services, according to the help network website.
Additionally, the network provides a Cold Weather Emergency Shelter Program for homeless persons in Mahoning County from December 1 to March 31.
According to the network’s website, there are posters bearing the words, “There is a Warm Place to Sleep,” throughout the city of Youngstown in locations frequented by homeless persons.
The website also states that there is a Homeless Outreach Program, which provides outreach in both Mahoning and Trumbull Counties to those experiencing homelessness. This program attempts to link homeless people to resources and stable housing.
The Career Closet is currently located on the second-floor of Kilcawley Center, in the space that Rookery Radio used to occupy. Requests for clothing or donations to the Career Closet can be directed to Nicole Kent-Strollo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SGA will accept food and monetary donations for the food pantry at any time and donations can be dropped off in the SGA office on the second-floor of Kilcawley Center. Any questions about the food pantry can be directed to Rayann Atway, at email@example.com or 330-941-3583.
The food pantry is open Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The office of Student Counseling Services is located on the Second Floor of Kilcawley Center. It can be contacted at 330-941-3737. Office hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Mercy Health Student Health Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the academic year with registered nurses. The hours vary during the summer and break weeks. Licensed physicians are available by appointment only during the academic year.
The health center can be contacted at 330-941-3489 or firstname.lastname@example.org and is located on the first-floor of Kilcawley House.
The Help Network of Northeast Ohio can be contacted at 330-747-2696 for members of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties.