The population we serve includes poor/homeless adults, seniors, veterans, racial ethnic minorities, domestic violence survivors, immigrants, and whoever wants to pursue a college education.
They are economically impoverished Washington State residents. Many of them are on some form of government assistance which qualifies them for federal student aid. Many of them live on the streets and in their cars. Some check in and out of motels and couch surf, while some live in low income subsidized housing.
Many suffer from various forms of emotional disabilities – depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, seizures, and others – along with substance abuse. Many seem to suffer from immature growth and development. Their behaviors and coping skills are very immature.
Most of us had parents who loved, cared for us and acted as our mentors. However, many of our homeless friends had missed such a parental support in their early life so that they could grow into matured adulthood. Many of us who are fortunate to maintain social support system with our family members, relatives and friends. But many of our homeless friends in general have little social support system most of their life because many were reared in broken homes or by emotionally disabled parental figures or foster parents many of who were often involved with substance abuse, and abused their children physically, emotionally and sexually as well. However, they are not intellectually retarded; rather, they are bright and intelligent. Most of them have God-given potentials and possibilities.
Living without a place to call home is stressful, especially for students. They attend classes disheveled, dirty, smelly, and very obviously homeless. Such a condition not only distracts from their schoolwork and that of their peers, it is also embarrassing, degrading, and depressing. Homeless students report chronic fatigue due to lack of sleep caused by living on the streets or in uncomfortable cars, or in the woods and being exposed to unbearable temperatures and rain. As a result, most homeless students are physically ill. The constant lack of security for themselves and their possessions leaves them emotionally and mentally fatigued and extremely stressed.
With life on the street, pre-existing physical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart and liver problems, substance abuse, and chronic pains in various parts of their bodies from past injuries, as well as learning disabilities or many other ailments, can all become much worse. In addition to the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions, they pick up new conditions and diseases as well.
This leaves many homeless people too sick to perform well in school or obtain and retain employment, but not sick enough to qualify for public assistance based on physical disability or mental illness. These challenges cause their academic performance to suffer greatly and they become discouraged, and many eventually drop out of school. Therefore, homelessness and their conditions of all forms of disabilities play a huge role of obstacles in the student’s life.
Getting into community college, keeping up with studies, handling long-lasting emotional struggles as well as many daily obstacles including financial hardships prove to be a huge challenge for our students, which contributes to their dropping out of school.
However, many are trying very hard to keep up with their studies and work in part-time labor jobs with meager earning due to lack of education and/or job skills. Many are also unemployed due to emotional and physical disabilities along with not-enough-jobs to go around for all who want to work.
For many people who have been out of school for so long, getting into college is a tremendous challenge. Keeping up with studies is an even bigger challenge. It is a struggle for them to go to school in their brutal homeless life. They have to fight with health and financial issues; with ordinances that show little mercy to the homeless; with many traffic tickets and citations for public drinking, loitering and smoking; with all the stumbling blocks from their past incarceration histories and debts; with shelter/social service systems including low-income housing systems; they have to fight for sleeping and parking spots every night; for restrooms and showers; they have to fight with bad weather; with robbery, violence and assault in their street life.
They also must fight through their own habits of a chaotic and careless lifestyle. They must fight with their forgetfulness, excuses, irresponsibility, physical or emotional disabilities, addictions and unhealthy habits. They must be able to keep appointments, be responsible and attend classes regularly, and finish school tasks on time. They must fight for food, money, love, recognition and pride. They must fight with despair, discouragement, and hopelessness. They must fight with temptation to abuse substances or drop out of school. For all these reasons, their everyday life is a struggle and a fight. Some homeless people are exceptionally honest, reliable, and responsible; but for many, these things are challenges they must overcome.
Their ardent desire to enhance their education can easily be diminished by these many obstacles and barriers. It is obvious that our homeless students need extra support and encouragement. They need social support as well. Without help in meeting their needs, it is not possible for them to attain their educational goals, and they would likely drop out of the race. Therefore, to prevent drop outs and help them achieve academic success, which will lead to a self-sufficient and significantly enhanced life, an on-going case management service is absolutely required.
Despite all their unimaginable obstacles they show goodness, great potentials and hopes. They can be trained and taught toward a success. Case managers can also become social support system for our lonely needy students; they may walk with them all the way to the point where they finish college, get their degrees or certificates, find employment and housing, and achieve independent life — leaving their dependence on welfare completely. (Refer to ‘what case managers may do’)