Posted: October 2, 2017 at 10:39 pm

By Jamie Mason, Andrew Walker and Dom Edwards

While college students might not be thought of as the typical homeless population, this is a reality that many students face. This includes West Virginia University (WVU) graduate Jackson Montgomery. Going to college can be stressful, but going to college without knowing where you will be spending the night makes it that much harder.

One day Montgomery went from being a normal college student to getting pizza out of the dumpster from Little Caesars. Montgomery spent almost half his time at WVU without an official home and had to spend some nights on the porch of his friends’ houses, or in U92, the college radio station at WVU.

Montgomery ended up not being able to pay his rent due to a loss of scholarship.

While this was the case for Montgomery, Brian Walker, the director of Community Life at WVU, said that there is no single factor that leads to student homelessness.

In Walker’s position at WVU, he works to help students find housing. Due to the nature of his job, he has dealt with students who can’t find a home they can afford. When this happens, WVU and Walker have a couple different options for helping students get through these tough times.

Walker said that the University has no requirement to help students find homes, which Montgomery didn’t find unfair.

“I’m not entitled to be here or anything,” said Montgomery. “They don’t have any reason to keep me here if I can’t pay my own way.”

Kofi Opaku, a professor at WVU who has worked with homeless people in the city of Morgantown, shares the same opinion as Montgomery. He created the Faces of Homelessness project, which tries to tell the story of people who are homeless in Morgantown.

“I don’t think that homelessness is the duty of some kind of agency or institution or organization to resolve,” said Opaku.

Despite having no obligation to help out students, Walker said that there are options on the table to help students find a place to live be it in the short term or the long term.

“We may have emergency housing available for that student. That’s usually in University owned and operated apartment complexes,” said Walker. “There is a start and end date for emergency housing, however.”

Walker also said that emergency housing usually has a maximum term of about one week.

This is something that Montgomery said was a big help, just knowing that worse comes to worst, you can have a bed to sleep on if only for one night when it’s really cold.

For longer-term housing solutions, Walker said that they could try and work with local landlords to negotiate a price that works for the student. While Montgomery wasn’t able to stay in his housing, he was able to make a deal with his landlord to help him move on.

“I just kind of argued with the landlord saying please don’t make us pay everything back that we owe you, there is no way we can,” said Montgomery. “He forgave us and just said get out as soon as you can.”

Another resource available at WVU is The Rack, the campus food bank that helps students who can’t always afford to pay for food. The Rack was founded in 2010 to help students make ends meet. There are an estimated 398 campuses with food banks currently according to a report from George Washington University.

“[At] WVU in particular, we have The Rack, which is really nice… that’s a big help for anybody who can’t afford to eat or doesn’t have a place to live,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery was able to benefit from this not only when he didn’t have money to buy food, but at times when he didn’t have a place to store food. Many times Montgomery would only have a couch to sleep on and no place to store items such as food or dishes.

The definition of homelessness is also something that some people debate, especially on the issue of if couch surfing is considered homelessness or not.

“We have a very technical definition of homelessness, but there is also a broader understanding of homelessness,” said Opaku. “Any time you are unable to pay your rent or even have to go stay with a relative, by the technical definition of the HUD, you are homeless.”

The HUD is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD is a cabinet of the executive branch of the United States federal government. There main mission is to create strong and inclusive communities, that are also affordable.

While Montgomery was able to couch surf between his friends’ houses for the most part, he also said that he knew a girl who was forced to live in her car at the Coliseum for about a year before she eventually ended up dropping out of school.

“We know there are students living in their cars,” Walker said. “We don’t know which ones necessarily but if they do come talk to me we will try to assist them in any way we can.”

While homelessness is an issue at large state schools, it is an even larger problem at community colleges across the country.

According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, 50 percent of community college students are in a state of housing insecurity. With that being said, one in eight community college students is already homeless. Housing insecurity is best defined as people who are one paycheck away from not being able to pay their rent.

Although student homelessness is not one of the most heard-about issues, there are organizations that are working to help students work through tough times.

The Southern Scholarship Foundation has been helping students find homes for more than 60 years. The foundation has partnered up with schools such as Florida A&M, Florida State, and Florida Gulf Coast to give students a place to stay. They find homes that are for sale near the campuses of the universities, and buy them and let students in need live there for free. Each home purchased houses for nine to 31 students who work to keep the house in order.

While student homelessness does not receive much attention, Montgomery hopes that by sharing his story he can help continue to bring awareness to the issues, and eventually lead to more resources available to help those who end up in situations like his. Montgomery said part of this also is just getting the word out about current resources, as he said he did not know about emergency housing while he was looking for a place to stay.

“It could happen to anybody, anytime,” Montgomery said. “It’s something to be aware of as a possibility so that you can be prepared for it.”