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    From Homelessness to Giving Back – A Student’s Journey

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    On August 12, 2020, Gordon Wayne began a 16 day, 550-mile trek from Virginia to Boston College, all on foot. At first glance, Gordon may appear to be an average, middle-class college student. However, last year, Gordon was facing very different circumstances. Despite working extremely long hours and attending community college, Gordon was experiencing homelessness. With his car as his only means of shelter, Gordon applied to Boston College and was accepted with a full financial aid package which included housing. Months after, during a pandemic that caused a rise in foreclosure and evictions, Gordon took to the streets – literally – to create awareness and raise money for homelessness.

    Gordon is far from alone in his experience of homeless – in Virginia alone, there are almost 6,000 people experiencing homelessness every night. Throughout the United States, the number increases to over 550,000, with about 68,000 of those individuals being college students. In fact, a recent study showed that 60% of college students had experienced food insecurity or housing insecurity within the last 30 days. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put an increased strain on the available resources for students who were already struggling. The time spent residing on campus during the semester was often a safe space for these students, who may now have to find alternate arrangements.

    With many colleges now going remote, some students are left with no place to go to finish their semester. Some schools regularly have programs to address homelessness among students; for example, Kennesaw State University’s Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment (CARE) Services is a program that offers assistance with housing, food insecurity, and supportive services. A growing number of schools host campus food pantries, which have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While other schools may not have ongoing dedicated programs like KSU, many are able to provide guidance to students about local resources.

    Depending on the area they live in, people experiencing homelessness can face harsh weather conditions if they are unsheltered and struggle to access basic necessities like food, water, and bathrooms. Without access to bathrooms or similar facilities, it can be near-impossible to maintain a socially acceptable presence, making it even harder to find a job. On top of all of this, many people experiencing homelessness encounter high levels of violence and do not have access to adequate healthcare. The inability to access healthcare can leave many physical and mental problems untreated.

    One of the most effective programs to reduce homelessness is the federal housing assistance program. While it can take time to access due to waiting lists, this is a stable solution to housing insecurity. Recent years have seen a push for a new approach using the Housing First model. Housing First means that while housing is the top priority, services are available to help in other aspects of life as well, while taking the whole person into account. Housing First takes away many of the traditional barriers to accessing housing and offers it to those who want it, not just those who have proven they are “ready” for housing by maintaining sobriety or meeting other prerequisites.

    Gordon’s journey was an incredible display of both human resilience and generosity. A few strangers brought Gordon supplies during his walk and even more donated to his fundraising site. Since starting his walk, Gordon has raised over $160,000 to benefit the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

    This year, the week of November 15-22 was National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Every year the National Coalition for the Homeless works with the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness to raise money and awareness for individuals struggling with food and housing insecurity. To make a contribution to National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, click here. For those in need of assistance with food, here is a list of food pantries.

    With winter approaching and many unknowns still surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the stressors each individual is facing are constantly changing. Until December 31, 2020, there is a national eviction moratorium, meaning you cannot be evicted from your apartment due to the nonpayment of rent or fees. In order to be protected under this moratorium, you must submit a form to your landlord. If you are in need of help with rent, there are COVID-19 rental assistance programs throughout the country. You can also find local resources by calling 211 or visiting the 211 website here.

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    Alyssa (she/her/hers) is a staff writer for SWHELPER. She is a Master of Social Work student at Boston University with a clinical focus on mental health, public policy, and social justice. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and finding new gluten-free spots around the city.

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