Homelessness: An Unseen Issue Facing YSU Students

By Abigail Cloutier

One sophomore pre-nursing major at Youngstown State University found herself in a position that most people would never think possible.

In October 2018, she became homeless. She spoke to The Jambar about this anonymously.

“Last year, I was living with my fiance and my daughter in a very nice house, a beautiful house, and I knew exactly where I was going to be sleeping every night,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about anything, everything was great, until my fiance attacked me.”

After an incident that almost took her life, she took her five-year-old daughter, her pets and two baskets of laundry, and left her home.

“For a period of two weeks, I was completely homeless,” she said. 

Although her parents were able to take her daughter, they didn’t have room for her. She slept on the couch at her workplace in a therapist’s office and showered in the homes of friends and her parents.

Fourteen percent of college students reported homelessness nationally, and nearly 50% of students experienced housing insecurity, according to the National #RealCollege Survey conducted by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in April 2019.

The Hope Center is a nonprofit research center that studies issues related to higher education. It defines housing insecurity as including a “broad set of challenges such as the inability to pay rent or utilities, or the need to move frequently.”

Though the pre-nursing major knew if she did not continue her education in order to better her life, the lack of support services sometimes made her want to give up.

“An education is very important to me because I realized that if I don’t get through schooling to become a nurse, my situation will never change,” she said. “I’ll likely always be living paycheck to paycheck. … It’s a lot of stress.”

After she found stable living conditions, she connected with YSU’s director of student outreach and support, Nicole Kent-Strollo.

Kent-Strollo often deals with students that experience transient homelessness or are facing housing insecurity. She also maintains relationships with community resources because they are critical.

There are several resources in Youngstown for shelter security, including the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, the Dorothy Day House and the Beatitude House.

The Salvation Army and the Student Government Association food pantry on campus and at St. John’s Episcopal Church also offer resources.

According to Kent-Strollo, there are many factors that put someone at risk for homelessness, including those faced by the pre-nursing student, such as her combination of being a nontraditional student, working full time and having a family on top of school.

Kent-Strollo identified other factors that play a role in student homelessness. These include domestic abuse and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Susan Laird, part-time faculty in the sociology department, first became aware of homelessness on campus when one of her students faced the issue.

She said she taught a class in the Williamson College of Business Administration and noticed a “very disheveled, unkempt” student. “I walked up to him and I had a tray of food, and he kept looking at the food,” Laird said. “And I said, ‘Can I buy you lunch?’ We started talking a little bit and he was brave enough to tell me that he was homeless as a student here on campus.”

The pre-nursing major said homelessness doesn’t have a certain look.

“I’m walking in with my Victoria’s Secret bag, wearing the latest PINK clothing. I have a Michael Kors bag, whatever the case may be. People wouldn’t know that was my struggle,” she said.

Laird said she would ideally like to see some type of emergency student housing on campus. 

Gayle Catinella, the reverend at St. John’s Episcopal Church, echoed that sentiment. 

“That new housing for students with money is great, but it only solves part of the problem,” Catinella said. “When I went to school, I stayed on campus. And you know, it was great, it mattered to me, it made my experience better. But we have to provide secure affordable housing so that everyone can take advantage of that experience.”

Though St. John’s Church works to provide meals and some other assistance, the university cannot officially provide any kind of material assistance, such as gas or gift cards, because doing so impacts the individual students’ aid. 

“Charitable gifts should not count against student aid, but until we figure that out, in the meantime, there’s no good way,” Catinella said.

Editor’s Note: The sophomore pre-nursing major was not named due to safety concerns. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere.”