Come December, and accommodation worries, from house hunting to heating bills, beleaguer many students. But for some students, the issue is a far graver one.
A comprehensive picture of how many students are affected by homelessness is hard to create, potentially owing to a culture of embarrassment. The housing charity Shelter do not hold any statistics on the issue among students, but said they would always advise anyone in need of housing advice to call Shelter’s free emergency helpline line on 0808 800 4444.
London Metropolitan University (LMU) conducted a research study which showed homelessness was a hidden problem in the capital. In one of the university’s ten undergraduate departments, 27 students said they were homeless and had been sleeping on friends’ floors, in hostels, or temporary council accommodation. Research into homeless students has not been carried out in any great detail in recent years, outside of London, making the topic a hard one to investigate accurately. However, the charity Homeless discovered almost half of all people living in homeless accommodation services in the UK are aged between 16 and 24.
Looking across the pond, in California one university found that one in ten of their students were homeless. At California State University, one in five students said their access to enough food is not constant and poverty is an issue. The university’s chancellor, Timothy White, called this “a gasp” and said the university would be looking at taking action for immediate solutions to the problem but it seems the issue isn’t specific to just one university.
Other universities in the US have reported similar accounts from students about insecure living situations. The rapper Big Sean made headlines when he donated to Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit, Michigan, in order to fund emergency provisions for students who experience accommodation issues.
A professor at WSU told a New York Times reporter that stigma means there may well be a hidden epidemic of homelessness among students. Professor Paul Toro said: “‘Homeless college student’ seems like a contradiction in terms. If you’re someone who has the wherewithal to get yourself into college, well, of course you should be immune to homelessness. “But that just isn’t the case.”