Homeless Penn State Students Initiative

Dear Penn State Donors,

Recently Project Cahir was verbally informed through the Office of Student Aid that there are 30 students at Penn State who have indicated on their FAFSA form that they are homeless. Project Cahir is a group of dedicated students who are devoted to fighting poverty within the Penn State community. It has just recently come to our attention that there are in fact homeless students. Since then, we have been working hard to come up with a solution. After consulting with many local churches, we found that there was a number of students using homeless shelters such as Hearts for the Homeless. In addition, janitorial staff have confirmed that they have had to escort students out who were sleeping in campus buildings such as the HUB. The sad reality has been slowly unraveling to us and as a group we wonder exactly what we can do to aid these students. Penn State does offer some resources to aid students who suffer from poverty. A good example of this is the Lion’s Pantry. Through the use of the pantry, that is located on campus, students can collect donated nonperishable items in addition to toiletries donated by Project Cahir. Although the pantry is small and is restricted to being open to certain hours, there is still a high volume of students who use it. Another resource that is offered is aid in textbooks funded by Project Cahir. If someone cannot afford the cost of their textbooks, Penn State will fund them the cost of rental textbooks from the book store. These resources help students but are not enough for students who face housing insecurities. After evaluating possible solutions and attempting some, the only feasible solution to this problem is to create a scholarship that will provide the appropriate needed funds in order to give housing to our students.

Project Cahir has extensively researched a variety of programs at other schools to strategically create a solution. Kennesaw State University offers an intricate program that provides students with housing insecurities with year-round dorms. We interviewed Marcy Stidum, someone who works closely with the C.A.R.E. Center, and she informed us that they also provide toiletries, food, and clothing to the students. Another prime example of a program tailored to students with housing needs can be found at the Community College of Denver.  After interviewing Ismael Garcia, a current employee, we were informed that the college provides 30 housing scholarships to students struggling with housing. They also offer another scholarship of $1,000 to students who do not receive the housing scholarship in order to offer some kind of aid. They acknowledge that $1,000 is not enough to help in housing but can be enough to help in the transition. Additionally, they work with off-campus apartment complexes in order to get a negotiated discounted price. The program is also connected with the office of student aid. Therefore if a student were to disclose that they were homeless, a faculty member could reach out to them in order to offer aid. The school is so devoted to the program that they have hired a single faculty member whose sole focus is aiding students in housing, food, clothing, textbook aid, etc. Penn State was the last of the Big 10 schools to develop a food pantry for its students. Even when it was developed, the majority of the work was conducted by students who volunteer their personal time. One of our founding members went out of their way to visit Michigan State’s Pantry, in order to obtain more information and ideas for our current pantry. She informed us that they have their food pantry housed in their health center and it is run by paid graduate students. In addition, the school even pays students to work shifts in order to keep the pantry open for longer hours. Penn State has been behind the curve when it comes to supporting struggling students. In order to keep progressing forward, as a community we must acknowledge that homeless students exist and strive to find an efficient solution.

Some may argue that Penn State is a business. Every student, faculty staff, and professor here is essentially replaceable. If one cannot afford Penn State due to financial reasons, there is someone waiting to take their place. It is known that one should only attend a college they can financially afford. However, the name Penn State is prestigious enough to make anyone want to come here regardless of their financial situation. Through my own personal experience, I struggled to be able to financially attend Penn State University. I could have gone to a university in my state, but I knew I would broaden my career and academically challenge myself if I went to Penn State. It was not an easy sacrifice my parents had to make especially when I have two sisters who are currently college students as well. However, my financial situation did not deter me from my dream of attending Penn State. This school offers opportunities that can only be found within our institution. Penn State is ranked within the 5th top percentile programs in the nation in supply chain and logistics, engineering, vocational/technical education, criminology, developmental psychology, environmental science, and the list goes on. According to U.S News & World Report, Penn State is ranked the highest rating for research by the Carnegie foundation. With the largest alumni networking in the nation, one can almost be assured of a job prior to even graduating. In order to ensure a brighter future, some students are willing to place themselves in uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations. Not every student has their family’s support or the financial resources to attend Penn State. As a community, we should strive to aid students who find themselves in such situations. In Penn State’s mission statement it states that the school strives to “provide unparalleled access and public service to support the citizens of the Commonwealth.” According to the Social Science Research Network, the purpose of a mission statement is to provide a sense of purpose and direction. They guide the resource allocation process in a manner that produces consistency and focus. In order to keep true to our mission statement, it is time that we show unparalleled access to all of our students in our community.

I truly believe that one can change the world one person at a time. By helping these students, we are keeping them here at Penn State rather than seeing them drop out of school entirely due to financial distress. Those 30 students who have claimed to be homeless here at our university are 30 students out of about 46,000. By having these students in the classroom, they provide a diversity in terms of social economics. This is crucial to provide a different outlook for students that one will typically not see in the college environment. Students who grew up in or were thrown into tough financial situations have unique perspectives that are needed here at Penn State. In order to continue progressing, Project Cahir proposes the creation of a scholarship to assist students with issues involving housing.  The student would pay for half of their housing costs and the scholarship would match the other half. Research has shown that students who have received assistance with housing from their schools go from a lower than average retention rate to a higher than average retention rate. Once receiving help these students have higher than average grades. By assisting these students, Penn State would be helping to strengthen the students already enrolled. After analyzing over 500 schools in the United States, U.S. News reported that, overall, students who receive financial aid have a higher graduation rate than the students who are not receiving any aid at all. By providing this type of aid to students here at Penn State, one can be guaranteed that there will be an increase in graduation rates making the school more prestigious and well-known than before.

As a group, we acknowledge that we cannot make as much change as we want to here at Penn State. Yet, the devotion that we have to continue to fight for this cause will continue throughout the years. In the words of Mother Teresa “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” We hope that you will consider donating in order to create a scholarship with the sole focus of aiding homeless students. At the end of the day, we are all Penn State. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tulia Taborga-Urquiola

Works Cited

“When Homeless Youth Attend College, Where Do They Stay?” National Alliance to End Homelessness:. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <http://www.endhomelessness.org/blog/entry/when-homeless-youth-attend-college-where-do-they-stay#.Vk47a3arTIU>.

“Homeless Students.” News at KSU. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <https://web.kennesaw.edu/news/category/tags/homeless-students>.

“Homeless College Students Struggle to Continue Their Education.” Pegasus Magazine. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/invisible-struggles/>.

“Academics | Penn State University.” Penn State Academics. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <http://www.psu.edu/academics>.

“Rankings | Penn State University.” Rankings | Penn State University. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <http://www.psu.edu/this-is-penn-state/rankings>.

“Mission and Character | Penn State University.” Mission and Character | Penn State University. N.p., n.d. Web. Apr. 2016. <http://www.psu.edu/this-is-penn-state/leadership-and-mission/mission-and-character>.

“Sex, Lies and Mission Statements.” By Christopher K. Bart. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 April 2016. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=716542>.




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