Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Homelessness is an issue that’s close to home

My freshman year roommate, as he lay in his bed, casually told me that that bed was the first bed he had slept on in two years. Before he told me this, I thought that he came from a wealthy, upper class background. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. From that moment on, I learned more about his childhood growing up in poverty, and his current economic situation. I learned why he was forced to move up and down the Eastern Seaboard, why he often changed his phone number (or went without a phone) and why he sometimes struggled to get health insurance, even though it is mandatory. Because I am close to him, I know these personal details, but a friend who does not know him as well could easily not know any of these facts (which he gave me permission to share in this article).

When students arrive at college as freshmen, many embrace the opportunity to express themselves in new ways. But college is an institution of conformity, particularly for students who live on-campus. It’s not that college reinforces conformity of opinion, but that it hides students’ economic backgrounds and upbringings. Think about it: when students live on campus, they eat at the same dining halls and on-campus restaurants as their friends, because most people have a meal plan. They live in rooms that are almost exact copies of each other. Most students can join clubs and everybody has to take classes.

It is very easy to forget that many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. After all, at college everybody seems to be in the same boat. Particularly if a student, like me, has not had to experience poverty, it can be easy to forget that some students have had hardships that others have not.

Not all students at the University of Massachusetts have let the issue of poverty slip under the radar. Fellow Massachusetts Daily Collegian columnist Timothy Scalona has consistently expressed his opinions on poverty in his articles. His opinions are driven by his own experiences as a low-income student who was homeless for six years. He has addressed the classist remarks he hears on campus, the wealth inequality perpetuated by the Commonwealth Honors College and the ways that colleges discriminate against low-income students. I encourage you to read his articles, since Scalona’s perspective is one of the more outspoken voices about poverty on campus.

According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, there are over 58,000 homeless students in the United States. An article earlier this year from WBUR notes that there are 1,020 students in Massachusetts who are “unaccompanied homeless youth.” Homelessness is a problem nationwide, with 12 percent of students at California State University, Long Beach reporting housing instability or food insecurity, as noted by a 2015 California State University study. The United Census Bureau found that in 2016 the poverty rate was 12.7 percent, or 40.6 million Americans. Fortunately, that number has been decreasing in past years. Unfortunately, there have been no changes in the level of income inequality. Poverty, and homelessness in particular, is too large a problem to be ignored.

Even though college may make everybody appear equal monetarily, the uncomfortable truth is that there are many students who struggle financially. The conformity of dormitory life is just a mirage that obscures the actual struggles of low-income students. I will never know what it is like to grow up poor, but I can recognize that my friends and classmates have struggles that I may overlook. As Scalona writes in his piece “Poor students left behind,” “Low-income and poor students alike fight day to day in a system that marginalizes them, a system that forces its victims into a never-ending circle of survival, in a process of dehumanization that only few overcome.” While I do not come from the same economic background, it is still important that I recognize what my friends go through.

For those who are not poor, remember that poverty and homelessness are not issues afflicting faceless people in some far-away place, but friends and classmates who we see every day. As a study from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison remarks, “Contrary to popular expectations, there appears to be very little geographic variation in hunger and homelessness among community college students. Basic needs insecurity does not seem to be restricted to community colleges in urban areas or to those with high proportions of Pell Grant recipients, and is prevalent in all regions of the country.”

Homelessness is everywhere, and we as a community need better recognize the extent to which it affects students.

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    NITZAKHONDec 15, 2017 at 5:20 am

    Being homeless is a frightening thought, and kudos to those who are yet work to improve themselves. Also kudos to those who choose to donate time, money, and materials to help those who are.

    I do find it interesting, though… how there is a “renewed” awareness of an ongoing and extant problem now that there is a “R” in the White House.