It is no secret that homelessness is a longstanding issue in the United States. It can be easy to view homelessness as more of an abstract concept, especially if it doesn’t affect one’s personal life. The truth is, this issue is very prevalent and much closer to home than many people may realize.
In fact, according to security.org’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, “nearly 600,000 Americans are unhoused on any night.” Furthermore, around 30% of this population deals with chronic homelessness, which “means they’ve been without homes for more than 12 months or have experienced extended periods of extended homelessness over the past three years.”
These startling statistics become even more devastating when homeless youth are taken into account. According to Rawhide, in 2019, “40% of the homeless population in the US [were] under the age of 18.” To make matters even worse, “just 4,200 beds are provided for youth, meaning more than 90% are left without shelter.”
Chester County is certainly not exempt from the reality of homelessness. The Chester County Department of Community Development conducted a study to determine the population of unhoused people living in the county. According to Patch News, in 2020, this study found that the population was 522. However, in 2022, the study found that the population had dropped to 402. The department carried out this study overnight, from January 26–27. Someone considered ‘homeless’ for this study would have to be “living in a temporary shelter or sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car, park, abandoned building, bus station or camping ground.”
Furthermore, Patch News reports that “[c]hildren account for nearly one-fourth of the 402 people experiencing homelessness while people of color make up almost half of the total.”
Regarding the drop in the population of unhoused people, Commissioner Josh Maxwell told Patch News, “Fortunately, we have taken actions to prevent these numbers from increasing, such as appointing street outreach coordinators, establishing the 211 call system, and developing an eviction prevention court program, which helps to keep families in their homes.”
The university itself has a population of unhoused students, as well. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, in 2020 “about 70 West Chester students on the 17,700-student campus [… were] homeless or former foster-care youth, said Tori Nuccio, interim associate director of financial aid.”
West Chester does offer resources for homeless or struggling students. One such resource is the Promise Program. The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “[t]he program provides year-round housing, priority tutoring help, scholarships for summer and winter courses, as well as gap funding for meals, books and other needs. The program is donor-funded.”
The struggle with homelessness is one that haunts our University, our county and our country. Additionally, in recent months, we have also been facing a housing shortage, not only at West Chester University, but also across the nation. Students are unable to access on-campus housing, leaving them scrambling for other places to live.
According to CNBC, 72% of “students who’ve faced housing insecurity” have thought about dropping out of college. The struggle to find housing has very real effects on the lives of students, and could force them to face homelessness, which is already a rampant problem across the country.
Homelessness is a much bigger issue than simply the housing crisis. It is complicated, and there are many different contributing factors that can lead someone to become unhoused. However, lack of access to stable housing can be very damaging to students specifically, and has the potential to leave students without a place to live, causing them to drop out or even become completely unhoused. Homelessness is a devastating problem that plagues the U.S., and the housing crisis has the potential to exacerbate this issue.
RJ Jacobson is a fourth-year political science major with minors in English and journalism. RJ923931@wcupa.edu.