Jennifer Carr knows she’s not the profile of a typical college student. The Detroit-area woman is 37 and has battled alcohol and heroin addiction. She’s also been homeless in the past and even now is categorized as someone who is precariously housed.
Carr’s story is not unusual. Studies suggest thousands of students at community colleges nationwide could be considered homeless or precariously housed, either because they have been thrown out of home, evicted, or sleep in a shelter, car or abandoned building.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go. I lived in my car. I didn’t have my job anymore and I got evicted from my apartment,” said Carr, who is in her first semester at Wayne County Community College District in Detroit. “I was ashamed I was living in my car.”
The few researchers who study the issue say there is scant data, but that they believe a surprisingly large number of college students are homeless. While some colleges have started to offer programs to help with housing or food needs, more needs to be done.
“For many people it’s a contradiction in terms — homeless college student,” said Paul Toro, psychology professor at Wayne State University. “If you’re a college student, you had to be with it enough to get yourself into college, so obviously you can’t be homeless.”
Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Temple University, in Philadelphia, recently released a homeless national survey taken at 70 community colleges across 24 states.
“We’re the third study to find either 13 or 14 percent, so it’s consistent,” Goldrick-Rab said. “But at the same time, my bigger concern, and the thing that staggers me a little bit, is thinking this could be an underestimate.”
She also found that a third of the 33,000 students surveyed said they were “food insecure.”
Goldrick-Rab is concerned the numbers could be higher because electronic surveys are not the best way to reach students. Response rates were only around 5 percent.
Toro is doing similar research in Detroit,…