Hungry and Homeless On Campus

College students are notorious for living off ramen and mooching free stuff whenever available. But with more students every year claiming homelessness on their taxes, the joking archetype of broke college students becomes a lot more serious.

November 14–20 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, an event held every year the week before Thanksgiving. And awareness is needed when such a significant section of the population goes largely ignored. According to the most recent US Census data, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness every year. 1.35 million of those are children, 45% of whom are less than 5 years old. Yet even those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Many shelters or organizations use their own methods of counting people and defining food or housing insecurity, so generally only the most visible members of the community are counted. The number of families who experience homelessness is growing faster than all other segments of the population. But numbers of college students, although a group normally seen as privileged, are growing as well.

Cindy Widuck, a professor in the College of Public Health, teaches the class at Kent State that was in charge of organizing this week’s awareness events. She says this problem is easy to ignore largely due to the stigma that still surrounds the hungry or homeless community. Most people assume these problems are caused by alcohol or drug problems, or simply not working hard enough, but that is a gross misconception. Several different factors can lead to food insecurity, and most are just one paycheck away from crisis. For college students, one bad grade could mean losing their financial aid and ending up with a month of classes left and no place to live. Widuck explained this particularly affects for International Students. “Because they are not US citizens, they are left with no resources,” Widuck explains.

She says she has at least one or two students each semester confess to her they are couch-hopping or struggling to find food. “But I have to believe there are more.” She adds. She says many of the students come to her after struggling in class looking for help, “and the rest of the story comes out.” Widuck says. Dispelling the myths of poverty and bringing awareness to the people in our community — and classes — who are struggling is the first and greatest step towards helping. Her class is organizing a list of resources for students, including the Women’s Center Food Pantry, University Psychological Services, and other organizations that provide a variety of aid to those who need help getting back on their feet. She says students often struggle with finding where help is available, but hopes this week raised awareness for the issue and provided people with the resources they need.

Kent State’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will end November 18 with a candlelight vigil beginning at the Wick Poetry Center at 6pm. 
For more information about National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, visit http://nationalhomeless.org/about-us/projects/awareness-week/