WSU provides support and hope for students experiencing homelessness

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College is challenging enough for students residing comfortably in residence halls or off-campus apartments.

College students experiencing homelessness face daily trials that can quickly curtail their dreams of a degree. But the WSU system is providing support, and hope, for students in these vulnerable situations.

Maria de Jesus Dixon, assistant director in the Academic Success and Career Center, estimates there are around 100 homeless WSU students systemwide, including about 75 at WSU Pullman. The Passport Program recently received a $10,000 mini-grant from the Washington Student Achievement Council to enhance relationships within the community and surrounding areas to better serve disadvantaged students.

The grant will fund the Washington Inspiring Students from Homelessness (WISH) program. Sarah Movius, who works with College Success Foundation Scholars programs, will collaborate with community partners, including the Poverty Awareness Task Force and the Whitman County Connections Group, to build a list of resources for homeless students. She’s also working with the Community Action Center to pool resources with on-campus programs like the Student Support Services Food Pantry and Cougs Feeding Cougs.

Basic needs insecurity among college students is a nation-wide issue. WSU is building resources at each campus for students in need. At WSU Tri-Cities, the Cougar Cupboard provides fresh and non-perishable food to students. The program is supported through partnerships with non-profit groups in the Tri-Cities, as well as donations from the WSU community.

The Cougar Food Pantry at WSU Vancouver offers food to students in need, and the Office of Student Affairs offers a list of community organizations that offer support for homeless and disadvantaged students.

Beginning July 1, the WISH program is expanding to include scholarship support for homeless students. An estimated 6,000 students statewide will be eligible for the scholarship.

Dixon says homeless students are sometimes tough to identify and quantify, but their needs are no less real.

“Sometimes they are sleeping on a friend’s couch for a few months or they may be staying in their car,” Dixon said. “There are sometimes students who are between housing leases and find themselves without a place to stay for a month or two.”

Ellen Taylor, associate vice president for student engagement at WSU, says that food and housing insecurity can have a tremendous adverse impact on a student’s academic success. “It’s hard to study if you’re hungry or you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep next week,” she said. “The mini-grant WSU has obtained as part of our Passport portfolio will enable the university to make progress toward addressing this challenge.”

The WISH program is one of several programs housed in the ASCC designed to support students from low-income and underrepresented groups. The Achiever Scholars program is dedicated to first-generation students. The Passport Program serves former foster children, and the Washington State Opportunity Program supports students from low and middle-income households who are pursuing degrees in high-demand STEM and health care fields.

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