Diversity at Edmonds Community College
PROJECT HOME ASSOCIATION
To support a transitional housing program benefiting the homeless or near-homeless students at Edmonds Community College
Over the last few years, the homeless student population at Edmonds Community College has become more visible to college officials. Homeless students have needs that differ from those of other students or the homeless in general. To begin with, they are at a disadvantage over other homeless populations because they are mainly individuals, without access to the social services that are in place for homeless families and children. They are at a disadvantage as students because, without a permanent address, students are unable to apply for several types of social services, including financial aid. But with financial aid and support, they are able to remain in school. They become more educated which translates into more prepared to care for themselves the rest of their lives.
Another issue is the social stigma attached to homelessness. Consequently, homeless students are less willing to declare their status, lessening their access to community aid.
Broader Homelessness Trends
Homelessness is on the rise in the county, the state, and the nation. Counts from across the country attest to the growing homeless population. For Washington state in particular, although homelessness in Seattle/King County rose only 2% overall from 2007 to 2008, Washington state had a 40% increase in homelessness in the suburbs. Snohomish County, which relies on Point in Time counts collected by volunteers over a short period, reported 2,037 homeless persons in 2005 and 2,666 in 2007, a 131% increase in two years. The 2008 Point in Time count reported a number lower than the 2007 count, but the accuracy of this figure is suspect for several reasons, one of which is because the data was collected over a shorter period of time.
Whether homeless in our community or elsewhere in the nation, the reasons for homelessness are many and not necessarily linked to drug or alcohol use. Homelessness often carries with it the assumption that drugs and alcohol are involved. The other great assumption about the homeless is that they are lazy. However, domestic violence, medical costs, family break-up, and poor credit rating are other factors. The recent economic trends, with job loss and home foreclosures on the rise, are just some of the other causes.
History of Homelessness at Edmonds Community College
Although perhaps some of the recent homelessness is due to the economic downturn, funding cutbacks, and the housing downturn, homelessness was already a problem at Edmonds Community College. Shirley Sutton, Executive Director of Diversity Affairs at Edmonds Community College, notes that in 2004, twenty students had declared their homeless status. However, as awareness among the student body about the services for homeless students grew at the College, so did the number of self-declared homeless. In 2005, the number of self-declared homeless students rose to thirty, and in 2009, to over 100.
Shirley Sutton’s mission to help the homeless began with a grant she wrote while with the Yakima School District. Over time, she became acquainted with their needs, their culture, and their dwellings. She was approached to serve on the Washington State Homelessness Advisory Council, where she served two terms for a total of eight years. When she came to Edmonds Community College, she noticed signs of a homeless student population simply by overhearing conversations between them about places to sleep and find food, and noticed an increase in requests. She brought together volunteers to transport food from the food bank to the college and start a kitchen to serve the students. It was at this time, emboldened by the College’s support, that more students declared their homeless status. Homeless students had not been as visible as homeless families or children, in part because they did not know of the services available to them and because of the stigma attached to homelessness.
Part of the reason for the success in realizing services for homeless students is because of the efforts of the student body and student government. In 2005, student government recognized that their peers needed support and funded a coordinator position. The duties of the coordinator included identifying the students and educating college staff, faculty, and students about homelessness on campus. The coordinator also assembled community members who represented agencies helping the homeless to brainstorm ways to help the students and especially the single students. The community at large already offered homeless children and families some services, but resources directed at single individuals were rare. These community partnerships include the Washington State Korean-American Coalition for the Homeless Association and a few local organizations which pledged help and ten other churches who, last winter, organized themselves and offered warm and safe shelter, transportation to and from shelter locations, sleeping pads and blankets, nutritious dinners and breakfasts, and shower vouchers. With their help, Edmonds Community College was able to shelter homeless students during last winter’s coldest nights.
Through fundraising and volunteer efforts, the entire student body has become involved in ensuring the safety and success of their fellow students. Volunteers from the student body also provided much needed assistance at the first greater community event, a spaghetti feed this spring. This event was a resounding success, raising money and awareness of the issue at Edmonds Community College within the greater community.
As homeless students have become aware of the services open to them, they have declared themselves. Already our programs have met with success. Julian was homeless for three years while attending Edmonds Community College. Because he had copy of his birth certificate written in Spanish and did not have the funds to hire an attorney to translate the certificate and process other necessary paperwork, he was an undocumented immigrant. Julian believed his dream to graduate from college was virtually impossible. But with perseverance and help from friends, college students and staff, and the community, he has achieved milestones in completing his goal. Julian took a course or two at a time, sleeping on friends’ sofas. College staff and peers fed and clothed him. Every now and then, he worked in a local restaurant and received cash for his work. Occasionally, he won a small scholarship from a community organization which helped with books and tuition. He persisted and successfully graduated with an Associates degree from Edmonds Community College. And this year, he achieved his ultimate goal: he will graduate from a local university.
Despite the successes, we are limited by the lack of permanent housing for students. As one homeless student at Edmonds Community College writes, “I am currently living at a friend’s home and by the grace of God, he is able to allow me to live there rent free….I need a safe place to live with my children and continue my studies. I need money to maintain the meekest of lifestyles. I need transportation, and my schooling paid for. I want my children to have a chance for a normal life and to grow up and be happy and successful. I plan on applying for student housing and continued food benefits.”
We at Edmonds Community College seek to address these needs first by providing secure housing for students to continue their education. With a permanent address, they are eligible to apply for benefits such as financial aid. In addition to a residence, we will arrange for community services and leaders to come into their residence and learn skills for daily life.
Edmonds Community College proposes to fund housing for eight students at the YWCA for Fall, 2009. This support will continue through an undefined transition period.
We are also looking for support through community sponsorships, in-club college associations, rotaries, and service organizations. With this support, we will be able to provide the students with safe, comfortable housing in which to pursue their education. As Shirley Sutton says, “They are part of our community, whether they are on our campus or elsewhere.”
For the national and state trends, see http://www.endhomelessnesswa.org/about/C8/.
For more information on the Project Home Program, contact the Project Home Student Association at OSL, Triton Student Center, BRI 252 (425) 640 - 1581or the Office of Diversity Affairs, MLT 106, 425-640-1630 or firstname.lastname@example.org