Searching for stability

The struggle of homeless college students

The backseat of her car, a cold tent in a backyard; these are some of the places Terra Shelton slept while she attended classes.

Some of the students that walk the grounds of our community colleges don’t have a place to truly call home. They sacrifice the income of another minimum wage job to strive for the goal of receiving higher education. People would never know it though, because they are often silent about their situation and isolated from peers by it. In fact, there is no true record of how many students are homeless.

Terra Shelton, a recent successful transfer student from College of San Mateo, was one of these people. Moving between various unstable living situations, she carried with her the trauma that caused her to leave her mother’s home at the young age of 16. Shelton found it difficult to consistently attend classes and maintain good grades. Often, she would apply to school and expect to attend the whole semester, then come to find it just wasn’t feasible.

“It’s really hard to focus on reading when you’re hungry,” Shelton recalled. “It’s hard to focus on what you have read when you’re worried about whether you’re going to make it or not.”

Students she spoke to about her situation would often give blank stares and some professors would take it personally, with the exception of a select few that became important mentors. Going out with peers was often out of the question, as our generation usually goes out to buy food or drinks that she couldn’t afford.

“It was socially isolating, (I) couldn’t talk to anybody because people my own age had no idea how to understand what was going on,” Shelton explained .

Along with the stress of how she was going to survive, Shelton felt an overwhelming pressure to succeed so that she could make the newfound people who believed in her proud. She felt unworthy of their care and support.

Skyline Program Services Coordinator, Tia Holiday, defines this feeling as Impostor Syndrome. Many students in similar situations feel as if they are not a person worthy or capable of succeeding, as their mentors or loved ones believe.

“A student typically doesn’t need you to save their life, they just need an ally,” Holiday said.

According to Holiday, there are many students like Shelton. They may be foster youths, homeless, or have unhealthy family relationships.

However, there is a lack of resources for students, though Skyline is trying its best. Holiday explains that while Skyline is doing the best they can with what they have, there is definitely room for improvement. Some available resources on campus include showers in the gym, medical services from certified nurses, the food pantry and financial aid.

The food pantry at Skyline is located in Building 1. Both financial aid and health services are located in Building 2. Shelton, who did not use these resources herself, emphasizes their helpfulness as she uses them today.

Students are able to apply for financial aid, California College Promise Grant, formerly known as the BOG fee waiver, or Cal Grant fee waivers, state grants, state scholarships, and more. This often covers the majority of homeless students’ expenses, depending on their income.

Shelton now attends California Polytechnic State University and, though she is not quite where she hopes to be, her living situation is much more stable than it was. She spoke on the advice given to her by a professor she considers an influential mentor, and wishes to pass on advice to students in a similar situation.

“How do you win a marathon?” asked Shelton. “One step at a time.”