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This article appeared in a May 2016 issue of the student newsletter.
By Nathan Woodham North Lake News-Register Editor-in-Chief
Last month around 8 a.m., the North Lake College Police Department was called to investigate a homeless couple asleep in a dugout on the baseball field.
“Whenever we found them, we just told them to move,” said Corporal Lisa Reagan about the situation. “People don’t realize that they are still people, and we still have to treat them with respect.”
Whether it was a bad decision, bad luck or something else, the lives of that couple led them to be deprived of one of their basic needs: shelter. Regardless of what led them to homelessness, the most difficult struggle they face is getting out of that situation.
The Washington Post, the number of homeless students in the U.S. has doubled since the recession.
Because colleges are not technically required to keep track of their homeless students, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the only reliable source for calculating the number of homeless students, and it reports that there are 58,000 college students on campuses nationwide.
North Lake College student Wolf is part of that statistic. With only his clothes and the contents of his backpack to his name, he sleeps wherever he can.
“Everyone has their basics: food, clothes and shelter,” Wolf said. “My clothes pretty much stay clean. I do well on eating every day. I don’t eat well, but I’m not hungry most days. I guess the only thing that leaves is shelter.”
Luckily for Wolf, NLC has several systems in place to accommodate struggling students. He often gets food from the Blazer Student Store with Blazer Bucks he receives from some of the faculty and fellow students. In addition, the student-run ENACTUS Club recently put together the Broken Butterfly Project, which helps guide homeless students.
“We try to teach [homeless students] to be self-sustaining and how to get out of their situation,” said Henry Olabode, president of the ENACTUS Club. “Then, hopefully, that person will teach another person, causing a chain reaction.”
Wolf, who is receiving financial aid to attend college, said that the simple fact that he was able to enroll means he has a second chance to get out of his current situation.
There are plenty of long-running, widespread misconceptions about the homeless community. Critics use words like “lazy,” “indecent” and “drug addicts,” when criticizing the large population of struggling individuals. But these accusations are ignorant to the life circumstances that would prevent someone from providing for themselves.
When there are people like Wolf, who are actively enrolled in school and are taking steps to pull themselves out of their situation, why are there still those who mock the less fortunate and accuse them of not trying hard enough?
“They get one small fact,” said Wolf, “In this case, they see a guy sleeping outside and they think they have the whole picture. If he’s sleeping there, to them it’s because he’s an alcoholic or he’s a crackhead. In their eyes, they just don’t believe anyone can be in that situation because they themselves have never been in that situation.
“Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t go wrong for someone else,” he said.
Being homeless doesn’t mean someone isn’t striving for more. It doesn’t mean they don’t aspire to be free from their desperate situation. Maybe it’s time to end the stigma and start helping out. The numbers certainly reflect that.
With everything stacked against them, it takes a lot of luck, support and determination to get a real second chance.
So where do we start? What can our college do to help homeless students like Wolf?
News-Register would like your input. Please let us know your thoughts regarding the situation at hand. Email us at News-Register@dcccd.edu. A follow-up story will be featured in the August back-to-school edition.
As for Wolf, he is preparing for his TSI and will start credit classes in the summer. We will update you on his situation as well.