Nobody expects to be homeless when he or she leaves for college.
For Natasha Corral, a freshman accounting major from Odessa, Texas, this unexpected situation hit home when she found herself at the end of her housing contract and without a place to live.
Her male landlord was invasive, coming into the women-only student housing unannounced and at odd hours. So after her friend was evicted, Corral took it as a sign she shouldn’t renew her contract.
“I was freaked out when I realized I had nowhere to go,” Corral said. “But I have good re-grouping skills, and I think quick on my feet.”
Luckily, with the intervention of a friend, Corral stayed in a motel for a week and found a new place to live. But the cost of an apartment that wasn’t student housing left her finances strained for months afterward.
Corral’s story is not unique at Dixie State University, said Dean of Students Del Beatty.
Beatty said DSU has less of a problem with homeless students than other universities, but there are still instances of finding students sleeping on benches, in the Gardner Student Center or in their cars.
“I can help [homeless students] develop a plan to get back on their feet,” Beatty said.
A fund called the struggling student fund can be utilized, Beatty said. He said there isn’t much money in it since tuition or fees don’t fund it, but the fund exists due to donations from community members and can be used at the dean’s discretion.
Beatty said students need to self-identify, which means struggling students need to come forward on their own.
However, Phil Ertel, an adjunct philosophy instructor, said this isn’t the best way to help students in need.
“There is the problem of identifying that you are needy,” Ertel said. “I’m not a psychologist, but there is pride involved in not identifying.”
Ertel said people should try to be more observant of those in need, and there are signs when someone is struggling with homelessness. Some of the behaviors Ertel said include wearing the same clothes and spending nights at someone’s house frequently.
And even if most students aren’t homeless, many struggle with not having enough to eat, Ertel said. As Ertel volunteers at a local soup kitchen connected to the Grace Episcopal Church, he said he’s seen some students come through the lines so they can get a hot meal.
As for campus resources, there is a food pantry that can be accessed by Beatty or his secretary for hungry students. Coordinating with the Utah Food Bank and doing a few local food drives, Beatty said the pantry is for short-term needs. No paperwork is required to receive food from the pantry. If students become repeat visitors, then Beatty said he will sit down with the student and try to work with them to get to the bottom of the problem causing the lack of food.
However, it is unclear how well-advertised the food pantry resource is since Corral said she had never heard of it.
“Me and [my evicted friend] were eating two things from the McDonalds dollar menu twice a day after we first moved to our new place,” Corral said. “I wish I’d have known about [the pantry].”
Corral’s story isn’t a fairytale ending. She is a junior at DSU now, but said she still struggles with affording college as health and car problems have come up.
Ertel said the cost of housing in St. George can be crippling for young students, especially as the students marry young and try to balance everything. He said he tries to share with his students what resources there are, but there are so many students in need, and they don’t know where to go.
Outside of campus, there are several resources for hungry students. The Grace Episcopal Church serves lunch Monday through Friday at noon until 1:30 p.m., and Switchpoint Community Resource Center also offers a food pantry and daily meals.
“People avoid the homeless, the hungry,” Ertel said. “The homeless and hungry are still people, and they need that help, recognition and interaction.”