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College Program Offers Resources For Homeless Students


We're going to spend some time now hearing about the experiences of homeless college students. Some campuses around the country have made special efforts to give these students a sense of belonging, a feeling at home, in some cases, for the first time in their lives. We have reports now from two of those campuses. We begin in Georgia with Martha Dalton of member station WABE.

MARTHA DALTON, BYLINE: Nikki Hamel is a senior at Kennesaw State University, northwest of Atlanta, and she's been homeless since high school.

NIKKI HAMEL: I started bouncing around at different friends' houses. And I was like, oh, I don't have it so bad. Like, I don't live outside. I have somewhere to stay.

DALTON: Once she got into Kennesaw State, she knew she'd also have a place to stay after high school.

HAMEL: I graduated on Friday and moved in Sunday.

DALTON: The university has a program to help students like Hamel There's a resource center and a food pantry, and students can live on campus year-round. It was the first time Hamel had had stable housing in a while. It was a relief, and it allowed her to focus on school. But, then, the holidays came around.

HAMEL: My freshman year, I cried. I didn't have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving.

DALTON: She spent the week hanging around her dorm room and eating food from the school's pantry. And, by Christmas, friends started inviting her to their homes for the holidays. Hamel also participates in Kennesaw State's Holiday Giving Tree. Students submit a wish list of gifts, things like gift cards, clothes and even smartphones. Then, the items are posted online, where donors can buy them for students. Hamel's on-campus case manager, Carrie Olsen, says she had to talk her into signing up.

CARRIE OLSEN: She's very much like other students in our program that will say, give it to somebody else. Somebody else needs it more than I do.

DALTON: But Olsen wants the program's students to indulge a little during the holidays.

OLSEN: This is their chance to kind of think beyond survival and basic needs to, like, what would be really fun. And some of them - this is what they're getting.

DALTON: For NPR News, I'm Martha Dalton in Atlanta.

AVI WOLFMAN-ARENT, BYLINE: And I'm Avi Wolfman-Arent of WHYY in Philadelphia. Princess Hill is a college sophomore. She loves school and not just because of the classes or campus life.

PRINCESS HILL: I have a roof over my head, and I have food. And nobody's telling me, you have to get out.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: Hill grew up in Philadelphia. She says, for most of her life, she bounced around the homes of relatives and friends. After high school, she worked for a while. Then, at age 22, she got accepted to West Chester University, a large state school in the Philadelphia suburbs. She had no idea if she could pull it off.

HILL: As far as books and as far as, like, tuition, I really didn't know what I was going to do. I just was going with the flow.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: Luckily, West Chester has support for students like Hill. The school's Promise Program offers scholarships and year-round housing to homeless students or students transitioning from foster care. Hill says college wouldn't have been possible without permanent housing.

HILL: This is the first time in my life I don't have to worry about where I'ma (ph) live or if I'ma be living in the house where somebody who may rape or hurt me, you know? Like, this is literally the first time I'm, like, safe.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: Hill and Nikki Hamel in Georgia aren't what most people think of as typical college students. But that notion of typical is changing. Sara Goldrick-Rab is a higher education policy professor at Temple University.

SARA GOLDRICK-RAB: We continue to think everybody's 18 years old with you know 2.0 parents and some 1.0 sibling, helping them go to school and bringing them care packages of groceries. It's just not true.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: Goldrick-Rab says colleges like West Chester realize they have to change their thinking to help these students make it to and through college.

GOLDRICK-RAB: It's not because colleges are becoming social service agencies and trying to become the parents of these students. It's because they want them to graduate.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: Princess Hill says winter breaks on campus can be lonely for her, too. And, given her turbulent family life, she's never been a big fan of the holidays.

HILL: I'm kind of getting numb to it now. So when the holidays come, for me, personally, it means it's another day.

WOLFMAN-ARENT: But unlike a lot of other days in her life, Princess Hill has a solid place to stay. And for her, that's a gift.

For NPR News, I'm Avi Wolfman-Arent in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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