Homelessness has been a serious struggle and has affected people throughout the globe. This struggle knows no strangers and affects people from all backgrounds, including many who have invested their last dollar in higher education. Rising tuition costs, high rental rates, and difficult transportation situations all pose a threat to a student’s successful completion of college.
In order to help ease the stress of finding transportation, the Student Government Association of the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus has purchased PSTA bus passes to give to students who can demonstrate financial need, free of charge. Many students have showed their appreciation and support for the “PSTA Student Bus Pass Program”. While the program has been very successful it has proven not to be enough. However, the Student Government Associations are currently working on new ways to assist students through these tough times.
Alyssa Haigh, employee of the Student Life and Leadership office on the St. Petersburg/ Gibbs Campus explained that “at least two or three homeless students stop by each week with questions concerning what resources are available to them at the college. Many of these questions we don’t have answers to yet.” The St. Petersburg College administration has voiced their concern for the rising rates of homeless students on each campus. The various Student Government Associations are trying to find a way around Florida legislation to help aid in this growing problem, and to find an answer to each student’s question.
Many homeless students hide their struggle from others, but often reveal their identity through forms and various records that they turn in to administration. According to St. Petersburg College’s financial aid department records of the homeless student wavier, there were a total of 65 self-identified homeless students on seven (7) of the nine (9) main SPC campuses for the Fall (445) semester of 2011. The number of students listed in the table below, may not be accurate considering that by law students are not required to fill out these forms, or identify themselves as homeless.
|Downtown & Midtown||445||9|
|St. Petersburg/ Gibbs||445||28|
(Table above shows St. Petersburg College’s processed homeless student waivers for Fall Semester of 2011)
The Florida Department of Children and Families Council on Homelessness stated in their 2011 report that “Florida has the third highest number of persons who are living on its streets, or in emergency shelters, in our country. Daily, nearly 60,000 people live on the street or stay in shelters. Unfortunately, the count is most likely a gross underestimate of the actual number of Floridians without housing of their own.” The Council’s mission is “to develop and coordinate policy to reduce the prevalence and duration of homelessness, and work toward ending homelessness in Florida”.
Jennifer Ruechel, Manager of Registration on the St. Petersburg/ Gibbs Campus interacts with many students at SPC. She and her staff have helped students with registration and financial aid, as well as many other services provided by the college. “If you don’t have a car it is very difficult to get around. Books can be an issue because the homeless waiver only covers tuition, if they get their FAFASA done then they can get the book line of credit, but a lot of times students in crisis are not thinking three months ahead of time” Ruechel said. “It is in the student’s best interest to make a connection with one of the advisors or a generalist, and see to it that they come back to that person each time. I really think that it is in their best interest to get a mentor of some variety going, including teachers, making a connection is important because they do not get the support groups that other students may have coming into the institution” Ruechel said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families Council on Homelessness also identified homeless veterans in their 2011 report “12,240 military veterans were homeless in Florida in 2009, ranking Florida second in the country for the number of homeless veterans”. Lawrence Hobbs of Veterans Services on the St. Petersburg/ Gibbs campus expressed his concern and support for the homeless Veterans at SPC. Hobbs stated that “homeless Veterans are just like any other veteran, they all have their ups and downs, and if you can help pull them together as another Vet and help bring them along, that’s what they teach you in the military. You never leave anybody behind” Hobbs further explained that “there are facilities available at Bay Pines and the vet center.”
When asked for any factors that he thinks may have contributed to the homelessness of veteran students Hobbs added that “once you’re in the service, civilians are never the same. Civilians have no clue as to what a veteran has been through, now PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is being recognized, but for years when I was in the service it was not recognized. They told you to suck it up and to keep on going. I think that this was a breaking point for some of them, and there was nobody there for them, and I think that contributed more than others.”When asked for a message that he would like to give homeless student veterans at SPC Hobbs responded with “you are not forgotten, you are next, and we can take care of you too.”
Traditionally, community college based education has had a student body derived mainly of commuters. Students typically focus on getting to school, work, and home on a daily basis. This has always posed a problem for community colleges because it results in low student involvement, which can pose a threat to the direct function of these institutions. Because most students are commuters, they are often unaware of the major issues that could potentially be harmful to themselves and other students. It is important that students are made aware of the issues, as well as the various resources that are available to help them through these tough economic times.
Numerous organizations throughout Pinellas County, including the Salvation Army. offer shelter, food, and clothing to the homeless. Alistair Glover, President of the Student Government Association for the Clearwater Campus stated “I would like to urge homeless students to come forward, and seek the various resources available to them. People do want to help them in this time of economic hardship.” It is important to be made aware of the serious issues and struggles that many students face on a daily basis. If you or someone you know is a homeless student or is going through a tough economic time, please make sure that you seek out the resources that are available to you. At St. Petersburg College your Student Government Associations and administration are there to ensure that each student has their needs met to the best of their abilities. The various registration centers on each campus assist students with their FAFSA, homeless student waiver, registering for classes, etc. It is important that every student know that there are people reaching out to help you, so please reach back.
Below is a list of resources, programs, and facilities in Pinellas County that are dedicated to helping the homeless:
ASAP Family Services
Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless
Below is a list of organizations with further information on homelessness, including ways that you can help in the fight against homelessness:
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Coalition for the Homeless
Florida Department of Children and Health: Council on Homelessness