Not So Home For The Holidays

Coming home after a long day to a home-cooked meal and some snuggles by the fire has to be one of the best luxuries available to us. However, some students don’t get to take advantage of that luxury, they don’t even have a roof over their head at night. Homelessness is an actual concern on Salem State’s campus. As the days and nights get colder, one can’t help but to think about where do those that don’t have that luxury go to get warm at night?

Have you ever thought if anyone in your 8 AM class didn’t have anywhere to sleep the night before? (Now THAT would make it hard to get to your 8 AM). FAFSA estimated in 2013 that there are 58,000 homeless college students worldwide.

1382382780000-photoThe face of homelessness isn’t just an old man with a beer can anymore; the face of homelessness is now a mix of teens, orphans, college students, battered women, children, single parents, and those laid off form their jobs. The tired face of homelessness is made up of people in the wrong situations at the wrong time. A Salem State University student, TinaMarie Giarla, was featured on USA Today about her story of being an “unaccompanied youth” after her father died and her mother was in and out of jail. She lived on campus until she couldn’t afford it anymore. When it was time for break, she wasn’t thinking about going back home or christmas presents, she was thinking about where she would live for the next month.

Giarla is now a senior, however at the time she could have used the help of a new office at Salem State University: Student Advocacy. Student Advocacy is ran by Chris Sullivan. The office offers,

“…information, support and advocacy to empower students to resolve concerns that may act as a barrier to retention, progression and graduation.”

Resources available at the office include food stamps, food pantry, off-campus housing, section 8, commuter resources, conflict resolution, Title IX, and more.

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I asked Chris some questions about her office and homeless on campus:

Nikki: How do you think being homeless and hungry affects a student’s life, in all aspects?
 Chris: If your basic needs aren’t met, you have no idea where you are going to sleep that night, if you feel unsafe or if you are hungry, it is hard to concentrate on what is happening in the classroom. It becomes difficult to complete assignments and pass papers/projects in on time. Access to computers, the internet and books becomes challenging. Students have shared that they feel like they have this huge weight on their shoulders that just doesn’t ever let up. Food pantries can be a help but, students who are truly homeless may have nowhere to cook. Nutrition suffers, which also impacts energy, and when our health suffers so does our ability to navigate school. Your first focus is on surviving.
Nikki: How do you think having homeless students affects the SSU community?
Chris: Many people in the Salem State Community are surprised that students may be homeless.  Often students
/staff don’t think that people in our community are struggling because we think this in an issue for the outside world. When they do learn, they are very concerned. Often the solution is not as easy as one would hope so , and that surprises folks.
Nikki: Do you think that shelters and food pantry do a good job providing food for the homeless around the holidays?
Chris: During the holiday season there is more awareness and certainly more dinners are offered by the general community. However, this isn’t just a holiday issue, many pantries struggle to keep up with the ongoing demand.  Shelters are often filled to the brim and there are not enough low cost housing options to meet the need.
 
Nikki: What services do you provide students, and how can they contact you?
Chris: My role is to help students who are experiencing challenges which are impacting their education. Often this includes referring students to the appropriate resources, sharing information about school policies and generally providing support. My goal is to empower students to resolve issues which may act as a barrier to their success. In addition, I act as a liaison between students and university personnel in a fair and impartial manner regarding student’s rights and university policies/regulations. The Food Pantry is a fairly new initiative born out of a clear student need which has grown on campus in recent years. The pantry is open to all current students and runs on donations from the Salem State community.

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