Senator Patty Murray recently introduced a bill designed to help homeless youth and children in the foster care system gain access to higher education. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rebecca Nathanson | Rolling Stone | Reader Supported News | December 26, 2015
aTia Daniels started at Kennesaw State University as a walk-on to the school’s track and field team, earning an athletic scholarship on top of her federal financial aid. When she quit the team to focus more on her studies, and that athletic scholarship disappeared, she compensated by getting a job through a temp agency. That arrangement worked fine until her final semester, this fall, when she needed an internship to meet her graduation requirements. She had to quit her job to make time for the internship, but it was unpaid. Saving on rent by moving to her father’s house, plus taking out additional student loans, helped at first, but eventually the long commute and family discord made the situation untenable. Just months before graduation, Daniels found herself without a place to sleep.
Last year, more than 56,000 students identified as homeless on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form. But the real number of homeless students is almost certainly higher: That number excludes those who cannot identify as homeless because they lack sufficient proof, such as verification from a shelter. It also does not include the unknown number of college students who intermittently experience housing insecurity but handle it on their own by couch surfing with friends or sleeping in their car or campus library, never telling a university official.
On November 10, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington introduced legislation aiming to increase the resources available to those housing-insecure college students and ease the barriers to financial aid. The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2015 is meant to help homeless youth and children in the foster care system gain access to higher education. Among other things, it asks colleges to improve outreach to high school students who fit those descriptions and calls for streamlining the FAFSA form to make it easier to verify homelessness, and to clarify that homeless or unaccompanied youth under age 24 are considered independents, allowing them easier access to financial aid.