Imagine settling into a space that is yours, with the intention of creating a better life for yourself, when you are suddenly told you have to leave. Now, imagine having no place to go.
That is the exact situation I faced upon the beginning of my collegiate career at Prairie View A&M University during the holiday break. It is also the same circumstance so many former foster youths across Texas face at their own college or university. Homelessness is unfortunately an issue that many former foster youth will deal with at some point in their collegiate careers, and the issue must be addressed.
November of 2015 was one of the most trying times of my entire collegiate experience. I was so happy to be out of the guardianship of past relatives and in control of my own life. More so, I was ecstatic about being enrolled in college. I felt I could finally make all of the necessary decisions to better myself. I could finally eat what I wanted when I wanted. I could leave my bedroom light on as long as I wanted and I could play music (almost) as loud as I wanted. I was so happy to finally have my own space.
One cool evening, when all of the girls in my building were dressed in pajamas, dancing everywhere as they spilled popcorn in the common area, our building manager called a dorm meeting and informed us that everyone had to move out for the upcoming Christmas break. My heart instantly sank. I felt my smile fade and my ears instantly went numb to the music and laughter around me. All I could think was, “Where am I supposed to go?” My mind ran rapidly, thinking of a plan. I was almost certain that once I explained my situation to the appropriate school administrators, I’d be allowed to stay. However, I was sadly mistaken.
Over the following weeks, I had conversations with our dormitory’s community assistant, community leader and property manager, who all informed me that there was nothing they could do. As the move-out date approached, I became overwhelmed with anxiety, as I truly did not know what was to come. I managed to get in contact with the university president who was, coincidentally, also teaching a class I was taking at the time. With hope in my heart and tears in my eyes, I was counting on that conversation to be the one that saved me.
In that conversation, it became evident that I was not going to be able to stay in my dorm. A month is a long time to be out of what anyone considers home. Unlike my peers, I had no relatives to return to and no holiday dinners with family to look forward to. I just wanted to relax in my space, yet that, like everything else, was stripped away. Fortunately, I had friends — upperclassmen with an off-campus apartment — who were generous enough to allow me to reside there during the break while they returned home to family.
Once the spring semester began, I was back in action. I moved back on campus and hit the ground running as I began to spread the word about what I had gone through. I kept thinking, “What about those who don’t have the option I had? Where do they go? What do they do?” I knew something had to be done to ensure no other former foster youth had to face this traumatizing issue their first year of college — at least, none at my institution. I involved the Department of Family Protective Services, my caseworker, the housing authority on campus as well as the president of student affairs. Though I ultimately ended up OK thanks to friends who helped me through that difficult time, I wanted to be heard. I wanted my story to awaken those to the truths and the struggles of former foster youth, or as I like to call us, the forgotten demographic. I understood that former foster youth make up only a small percentage of the enrollment population at most universities, and administrators may assume that everyone has a feasible home to return to. But that assumption is false, and it dismisses the circumstances of those not in that category.
When college campuses close for holiday break or in an unprecedented emergency like the coronavirus pandemic, the former foster youth who rely on colleges for housing security are left scrambling to fill that gap. I know I was.
Thanks to the efforts of myself and others, today the university has lifted its no-stay policy. The issue of homelessness may not yet be solved across all university campuses, but to start with one is a start for many. We must continue the collaborative effort of spreading awareness on this issue that impacts so many students, until we are sure that no former foster youth has to dare worry about not having a home when school is out of session.