By Kelly Mahaffey / Staff Writer

Colleges around the nation are launching programs and brainstorming ways to support the growing number of homeless students on campus.

According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.com), about 58,000 students declared homelessness on their financial aid application this year. The is a 75 percent increase from 2013 and expected to rise.

According to FAFSA, the actual number has tripled, factoring in students who keep their situation a secret to avoid the stigma commonly associated with homeless people.

“I think most people think that homeless people are lazy, dirty and crazy,” said Kevin Saunders, 21, an electrical engineer major. “I am none of those things.”

A music major, 27, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “None of my classmates know I am homeless.”

According to the 1994 Stewart B. McKinney Act, a person is considered homeless who “lacks a fixed, regular, adequate night-time residence and … has a primary night time residency that is a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.”

An article on thoughtcatalog.com explains that homelessness as a student is harmful in every kind of way, from academic success to health stability and social development. The extreme pressure of not knowing where they are going to sleep at night, how to get homework done and a lack of structure challenge academic success and make it difficult to finish their education, the article said.

The unique challenges of students who are homeless were expressed in a workshop on LBCC’s Flex Day, March 10, at the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference at the PCC.

Corinne Magdaleno, Senior Administrative Assistant to the dean of counseling and student support services, arranged a panel addressing student homelessness. The panel consisted of one student currently homeless, a formerly homeless alumnus and two representatives from shelters and community support.

Panelist Elsa Ramos, Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center coordinator, provided insight into the process required to confirm the eligibility of individuals before services can be offered. The process often deters people from coming back for help.

Ramos explained that although homeless shelters offer many people a safe, temporary dwelling, shelters also have strict curfews that conflict with the class schedules of students who would otherwise stay at the shelter.

After the workshop, Magdaleno was approached by several employees who had no idea so many students were homeless. She said, “We did good. A lot of good information was exchanged today.”

It was unanimous that a uniform plan be made for employees so they can assist students who identify as homeless in the future.

At the March 24 Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Sunny Zia opened her door to students who are homeless. Zia said, “Call me or email me.  I will return your call and we’ll figure it out.”

Students seeking help may contact Zia at (562) 270-5017 or by email to sunny.zia@gmail.com. For more information about the Multi-Service Center, people may contact Ramos at (562) 570-4588.