Almost 100,000 Florida K-12 students reported being homeless or having housing insecurity in 2018, according to data from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida. Even worse, this number rose almost 25% in just two years due to Florida’s ever-increasing affordable housing crisis and storms like Hurricane Michael. Certainly, the number has climbed even more since the arrival of COVID-19. We won’t see those figures for some time, but the need exists right now. Students who lack dependable housing are half as likely to pass their FSA benchmarks and 20% less likely to graduate, compared to their housed peers. Food and housing insecurity also widens the achievement gap between white students and BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) students by almost 20%, according to the HOPE Center for College, Community, and Justice.
If you or someone you know needs reliable sources of food or shelter, there are resources available. Every Florida school has a Homeless Student Contact person, and every district has a Homeless Education Liaison. Your school office personnel and guidance counselors should know who they are, or you can ask a trusted teacher or coach. College students also report high degrees of basic needs insecurity, which the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers says is the biggest obstacle to degree completion.
• Dial 2-1-1 to reach a clearinghouse of health and human service agencies
• SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program / www.benefits.gov
• Southern Scholarship Foundation: rent-free housing near college campuses / www.southernscholarship.org
• CUFBA: the College and University Food Bank Alliance / www.cufba.org
• Dreams for Change: job placement, free tax prep and safe parking services, among others / 1-619-497-0236 / www.dreamsforchange.org
• NAEHCY: National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth / www.naehcy.org
• Homeless Shelter Directory / www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/florida
• National Center for Homeless Education / 1-800-308-2145
• Foster Care to Success program: scholarship assistance and job training / www.fc2success.org
• FSEOG: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant; Check with your school’s financial aid office to see if they accept this grant. / www.studentaid.gov
Many colleges and universities offer support programs where students can get resources and guidance. Educate Tomorrow at Florida Atlantic University, for example, helps students navigate scholarship and loan applications, provides stipends for dorm room decoration, and ensures that students can remain on campus during breaks. Since 2014, they have seen the graduation rate of homeless students increase from just 4% to an incredible 46%. Many schools also have clothes closets, food pantries, and computer labs with free printing. For example, Daytona State College offers all of these services plus laundry tokens, school supplies, local transport, and access to health care. Check with your school’s Student Services office or the Student Government Association. Under Florida law, homeless students enrolled at schools in the Florida College System are eligible for a tuition and fee waiver. See your school’s admissions or financial aid office to check your eligibility for this program. Your housing status should not prevent you from seeking — and getting — the resources and support that you need to pursue your education.