Pursuing a college education without stable housing can have a devastating impact on a student’s chance of earning a degree. Homelessness can happen at any age, including to college students. So how can colleges use a Housing First approach to better serve students and reduce the number of unhoused learners?

Since 1992, Housing First has emerged as an evidenced-based approach to reducing the number of unhoused people in the U.S. Guided by the belief that people need necessities like food and a place to live before attending anything less critical (such as pursuing a degree), Housing First views housing as the foundation for life improvement and can be applied to the college context.

By prioritizing housing in efforts to increase support for vulnerable student populations, colleges can remove the burden of seeking a place to live and replace it with the stability afforded to those in residence halls or who stay off campus. Students experiencing various types of housing instability – ranging from couch-surfing, sleeping in a car or RV, temporarily staying at a hotel, sleeping at a shelter, or sleeping outside – would all benefit from a stable housing situation that would allow them to focus on class attendance and completing their assignments. It is extremely hard to earn a degree when there is no place to study, sleep, or shower. Ultimately, employing a Housing First approach for college students will position these students to graduate at higher rates and experience the economic mobility afforded to those with a college degree.

Homelessness among students enrolled in higher education has been a longstanding invisible issue, as many may not disclosed their situations due to stigma and shame. In the last 10 years, however, researchers from several organizations have published reports that shine a bright light on the widespread nature of homelessness in higher education.

With a clearer understanding of the scale of the crisis facing unhoused students across the country, many colleges and universities are responding with various types of support. Many of these initiatives address food and transportation insecurity, like the increasing number of pantries and emergency aid resources offered, but opportunity remains to drastically reduce the number of students experiencing homelessness.

Read the full article about college homelessness by Malik Rivers at National Alliance to End Homelessness.