I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a roof over my head and in a home full of love and compassion. My parents and I may not have agreed on absolutely everything, but they provided me with unconditional support. I feel a certain warmth every time I remember that soon I'll be back in Colorado, and celebrating the season with those I care about.
As we draw closer to that time of year, I often remind myself that it may not be quite so wonderful for some of my fellow students. Many students do not have a home to go back to during their breaks due to poverty, homelessness, even an unwelcoming or toxic home environment. It can be especially difficult around the holidays for these students because due to America's deep-rooted familiar values, it may seem as though they are alone in their struggles. While all of their friends are gushing about seeing home again, these students are thinking about if they have a place to go.
It is now estimated that 14% of community college students are homeless while half are home-insecure (i.e. couch surfing or behind on rent payments). Around two thirds of community college students are also reported to be food-insecure, the same study says. This means that these students have no reliable source of food throughout their day-to-day lives. The idea of having homeless classmates may never occur to most middle class college students because one might assume that everybody attending their school has little to no financial strain. As we can see from the statistics, however, this isn't the case.
There are not many government programs working to help the issue of homelessness on college campuses. College students are eligible to apply for food stamps, but in order to do so, they would have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week. That may not sound like a lot, but for many busy college students it is a monumental task to overcome. Working a large amount of hours on top of studying, going to class and meeting their most basic human needs can be physically and mentally exhausting to say the least.
Some may wonder if these students are so impoverished, how come they choose to spend their money on education rather than on the essentials to live, or to support their families? Although it takes money to acquire a higher education, it is often essential in order to be considered hirable for most jobs that pay higher than minimum wage. When a person has a college degree whether associate's, bachelor's or otherwise, they are more likely to be payed higher wages, have better job security (as they are seen as less expendable) and overall have a larger range of skill sets for the workforce. This provides them a better quality of life in the long run, and gives them the opportunity to better provide for themselves and their loved ones.
College students should also think about those of their fellow peers who may not exactly be homeless or impoverished, but still do not have a loving home to go back to due to toxic family members and abusive home situations. College can provide the optimal "one way ticket out" for many struggling college students, a way to break free from the chains of their past and live their lives to the fullest without constantly having to watch their backs and stand up for themselves.
When in college, these students can simply blend into the background and lead normal lives. However, around the holidays, these students may start to feel little pinpricks of pain once again as they hear their peers discuss their plans for the holidays and how excited they are to see their families. While the friends of a student with a difficult home situation may have difficulty containing their excitement, it can still feel very hurtful and isolating to hear about the love they missed out on. Some of these students still go home, but not of their own will.
To some of those who came from loving homes, this idea could seem completely bewildering. Why would these students endure such abuse, if they have a perfect excuse to leave their toxic homes forever? The answer is somewhat complicated, and can vary from case to case. Abusive and manipulative families often guilt their college aged children into spending time with them with the threat of cutting the student off financially.
As most full-time college students do not have the time nor the resources to be completely financially independent, many still rely on their abusive families to pay their way through school. If they cut off ties with their family, they have no way to fund their education and are therefore trapped. Getting a degree can help these students to become financially independent adults, who can leave their old lives and situation behind them for the time being. Unfortunately, in most cases, college doesn't always provide the freedom it promises and so these students must endure even more years of abuse in order to get out for good.
If you are a college student who has never struggled with these sorts of issues, you should feel very fortunate. Though I myself sometimes struggling to meet deadlines, fit in all I want to do and keep my mental health in check, I must sometimes remind myself that there are others who have bigger fish to fry. Yes, we all have our problems, but we need to address and provide support for those whose problems may seem insurmountable.
How can you, as a privileged college student, help out those who do not have homes to go back to during winter break? One idea is to conduct your own research. There are many resources out there for struggling students; educate yourself so that you can give your peers proper recommendations.
Another is to work with your school to organize clothing and non-perishable food drives for students in need. Many students would be willing to help donate to the cause, especially if they knew that their efforts would go to helping their fellow students.
Finally, you can support those who are going through a rough time. Make sure you properly listen to their thoughts and feelings, and ask them if there is anything specific you can do to help them out. Sometimes your friend might need a cup of noodles to eat or a couch to crash on, but sometimes they just need a friend who truly cares about their well-being and safety. A little kindness can help to spread the holiday cheer to all.
Leading Image Credit: Warren Wong via Unsplash