Boise State Public Policy and Administration and Master of Public Health graduate students researched homelessness this semester, taking a special look at housing insecurity among university students. In addition to the academic research, a service-learning component comprised an integral part of the Introduction to Public Administration course.
The students prepared and served dinner to 50 families and children at the Interfaith Sanctuary over two nights in early March. They also participated in the City of Boise Point in Time Count in January, which counted the number of individuals experiencing homelessness. This data helps determine the amount of federal funding awarded for homeless programs locally and also helps the city better grasp the nature of homelessness in the community.
The students presented their research findings to university and community housing leaders on April 25. Their three group presentations analyzed conditions contributing to student homelessness and made actionable recommendations for addressing the issue.
A presentation titled Highway to Housing discussed factors contributing to housing insecurity among students. Among the challenges for Boise State students are a housing shortage in the downtown and campus area, along with a lack of transportation between lower-cost housing areas and campus. The group also noted approximately half the cost of Idaho higher education is now paid through student tuition and fees, as opposed to twenty years ago when it was almost entirely financed through state funds. The group also noted that while median income has doubled since 1984, the cost of higher education has nearly quadrupled. As a result of financial strain, students frequently work more hours than are conducive to student success.
The presentation Student Homelessness on College Campuses: A proposal for emergency short-term housing services examines the approaches taken by universities nationally to tackle housing insecurity. For example, the University of Utah has created a “Student Homelessness Task Force” with over 20 university offices and departments participating. Their program, in which housing-insecure students are assigned a Student Success Advocate, typically spends around $600 to retain a student.
The Resource Navigator presentation explored the reality of daily life for homeless students and examined the statistics surrounding student housing insecurity nationally and at Boise State. The group noted the complexities of the financial aid application process can be a hurdle to low-income families. This is evidenced by 11% of nationally surveyed students receiving Pell grants, a program designed to assist low-income students, who experienced homelessness in the past year.
While each of the three presentations had a different focus, there were several common recommendations. Recurring proposals included: forming a task force comprised of relevant university offices, the inclusion of a “Basic Needs Statement” addressing housing insecurity in all university course syllabi, participating in the University of Wisconsin HOPE lab study, and the eventual creation of case management positions on campus to better follow up with students after services have been provided.