You may not see them, but they’re there.
At this university, homeless students take shelter and sleep in places such as Annapolis Hall, Stamp Student Union and the study carrels in McKeldin Library. Rhys Hall, a student at this university, has experienced homelessness while studying here and has a compelling story to tell.
“Things such as the community centers like Annapolis Hall – you can use your ID to get in and just sleep there overnight,” he said. As long as you don’t do it on a back-to-back basis, you can kind of just take the various amenities this campus has and rotate them. People will never know, so long as you don’t make noise.”
Hall spoke not only about his own narrative, but also on the wider experience of students across campus who aren’t secure about where they’re living.
“This sounds sad, but attending GBMs and joining organizations, you can get free food just by showing up,” he said.
Why is student homelessness not being solved or addressed widely? Because it is hard to discuss. According to Hall, the status of being homeless carries many negative stereotypes.
For example, Hall has been using a P.O. box for over a year when filling out applications and doesn’t want someone to say, “I don’t think I can rely on you because I don’t know where you’re going home each night.”
According to a homelessness issue brief published by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, as many as 7,354 individuals under the age of 18 experience homelessness annually.
Many of them don’t want to speak about their own situation because it’s not easy.
However, the notion that you can’t tell anyone makes it difficult to reach out for help. Asking friends to stay at their place, for example, can prove to be difficult. Furthermore, it does not solve the problem and only provides a band-aid solution.
Hall calls this homeless culture, which he defines as a, “consistent narrative that operates under homelessness that may or may not persist once someone has found housing.”
In other words, homelessness is not only about not having a place to stay.
This narrative remained true for both Hall and Javonté, a student at the University of the District of Columbia who spent most of his life homeless.
Javonté wants to be a composer for children’s animated movies. He draws his inspiration from The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. He works as an intern now with Covenant House, a center with educational programs, housing and vocational training for homeless youth.
Javonté is majoring in classical voice and minoring in classical piano. He spends most of his time working on vocals, but he started taking a keyboard class his freshman year of college and realized he was progressing rapidly.
He referenced secrecy as a cause for the stigma around youth homelessness.
“It’s more than what you know. It could be one of your classmates in college, it could be like one of your buddies in school.”
Spotting homeless youth might prove to be more difficult than you think, he said.
“He don’t eat lunch cause he don’t have nothing to eat; he don’t have no money but you just think he don’t wanna eat ‘cause he just don’t feel like eating,” Javonté said.
The public sometimes overlooks homeless youth because of the negative stigma surrounding this group, he said.
“It’s more to it than that,” Javonté said. “I didn’t put myself in a predicament. I’m not going to say my mother did, it’s just certain stuff that happened.”
Javonté offered a piece of advice to those who might recognize the signs of homelessness in a child.
“Let the child realize ‘I have somebody to help, I have somebody to give.’ You have to let them be able to trust you and in due time they will come to you.”
Hall also said that giving a friend a place to stay will not fix the problem. The first step is admitting that there is a problem. He referenced the capacity for college students to instigate change.
“We have managed to break down racial dynamics, gender identity expression and dysphoria … we can talk about socioeconomic status, there are so many … identities that we have managed to deconstruct in our era,” Hall said. “Homelessness is one of those things that I still think we have the tools to push into the common discourse, we just haven’t gotten there yet.”
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.