Homelessness is a significant problem that affects many people in Springfield, including an estimated 1700 students.
The Hope Center for College surveyed nearly 86,000 students last fall, and found that homelessness affected 18% of respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14% of those attending four-year institutions.
A sophomore nursing student from Missouri State University, preferred to remain anonymous. John Doe has been homeless since college began. A couple months before freshman year, his family faced a financial crisis and moved away, leaving Doe on his own.
Doe said there are two categories of homelessness, the first is when the individual has no place to stay, and the second, which he falls into, where an individual has no place of his own but hops from couch to couch.
Doe stays in a residence hall during the semester, but doesn’t always know where he will end up sleeping during breaks.
“I made friends and kind of found my way,” Doe said.
While Doe said MSU is his home, he knows it’s not a permanent place to stay.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Doe said. “Getting an education will hopefully take me out of this situation.”
Doe said MSU and organizations around Springfield have many resources to help people who are struggling.
At first, he said he was scared to ask for help, but after reaching out to trusted peers and staff he began to open up about his situation which allowed him to get the resources he needed to stay at MSU.
Doe said talking to a resident assistant or the counseling center in Magers health center is a great first step in getting assistance.
Doe said the main organization that helped him was Rare Breed, which gave him supplies such as pillows, blankets and food. He said the staff at Rare Breed was very comforting and understanding.
Kathy Westmoreland, the youth services coordinator for Rare Breed, said the organization offers free and confidential services for at-risk and homeless youth.
“They are very well equipped and trained to help,” Doe said.
According to Westmoreland, Rare Breed’s trained case managers offer guidance and motivation to youth aged 13 to 24.
She said Rare Breed offers community housing programs, referral information for mental and physical health, employment services, shelter, showers, laundry, evening weekday meals and more.
Westmoreland said a lot of assumptions are made about youth homelessness.
“People assume kids just didn’t want to deal with the rules at home and that they’re just runaways,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland said after getting to know the stories of the youth she works with, she is very thankful she gets to bring about a positive change in their lives.
Doe said he wishes the topic of homlessness was discussed more; he said student homelessness looks different for everyone and it’s not always apparent when someone is struggling.
Doe said his education is very important and does not take it for granted. He said it gives him a chance to pursue his goals.
“Eventually, I want to give back to the community and to Rare Breed in the future,” Doe said.
He encourages people with access to resources to check in on peers and classmates that show signs of homelessness. To those who are in college and facing homelessness he leaves this message:
“Keep your head up, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”