Making school a priority is challenging for most students at one time or another. A football game, Facebook update, or chocolate muffin can seem more momentous than a textbook in the moment. Yet in spite of these struggles, few students have to weigh the merit of completing a math quiz over finding a place to sleep, or writing an essay over securing a meal.
For students like Gordon Graham, a student who was homeless during part of last semester, stress over securing basic needs can be crippling to academics. Homelessness, a circumstance some UVU students face, presents unique challenges to students, the university and the community.
Last semester, Angela Roberts was running through her routine as a Retention Mentor for UVU. She dialed the number of Gordon Graham, a student at risk of failing. Roberts, a mentor of three years, is trained to handle all types of student difficulties, but she wasn’t prepared for what she learned. Graham was homeless.
“I was so shocked,” Roberts said. “Homelessness—I had nothing to say.”
In three years of work at UVU, Robert’s experience with Graham was her first contact with the issue of student homelessness. Yet it appears that homelessness may be a hidden struggle facing some students at UVU.
One student, who will remain anonymous to protect himself from repercussions, confessed that he was homeless for a period of time. During this time, he would hide under a desk on campus until everyone was gone. Then he would spend the night on one of the campus couches.
Darah Snow, an administrative assistant with UVU’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center, knew of two homeless students who came to the VSLC last semester looking for help in finding a place to stay. One of these may have been Graham, but this means that at least one other student at UVU was or is battling homelessness.
Snow said that the center does not provide housing assistance, but they do have a food pantry for students facing “food insecurity.” The pantry is available to students taking at least six credits, no questions asked, and is meant as a form of “emergency assistance.”
Besides the food pantry, the VSLC has a full page of community resources compiled by the United Way, which includes a section on housing and sheltering services. The VSLC uses this handout as a way to refer students in need to community assistance.
Graham reported that in the end he couch-surfed for a few weeks before obtaining housing. A recovering addict, he said being homeless was an extra challenge for him because it made going back to the drug lifestyle more tempting. He said in that lifestyle he always had money and a place to stay.
“It really took a toll on my schooling,” Graham said of being homeless.
He struggled to focus on studying because of preoccupation with meeting his basic needs of food and shelter.
Graham said he didn’t really expect anything out of the university, but he would have liked more community help and advocacy. He struggled to access community resources due to difficulties with his sober living housing.
Graham is now in a new sober living facility and taking a break from school for the semester. However, his schooling is still in progress, and he is pursuing a degree in behavioral science.
“Keep doing what you’ve got to do. It seems to work out,” Graham said.
If you or someone you know is facing homelessness, contact the VSLC for a list of community resources.
By Sierra Wilson – Staff Writer