Massachusetts Officials Kick Start New Housing Program to Address Youth Homelessness

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently announced a new student housing program as part of $3 million in grant funding to state community organizations that help address youth homelessness.

In its initial launch, the state plans to spend $120,000 to pilot the program at Bridgewater State, Framingham State, Worchester State universities and at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

State higher education officials hope that by offering homeless and vulnerable community college and university students with a secure place to live, guaranteed meals at the campus dining halls in addition to support services such as mental health counseling, they will increase academic success and, in the long run, ensure that these students graduate, according to the University of Massachusetts Lowell news.

“We saw a need,” said Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago. “And we’ve got space in our state universities.”

Just last week, 20 college students were moved into residence halls on one of the four public university campuses. As part of the program, the state is guaranteeing the homeless students a place to live for a year as long as they are enrolled as a full-time student at a state institution, are under 25 years old and continue to be in good academic standing.

Massachusetts officials predict that there are 500 to 1,000 homeless youth in the state living by themselves. A 2017 study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that 13 percent of state community college students said they had experienced homelessness in the previous year.

At Massachusetts’s public four-year institutions, 10 percent of student participants reported being homeless in the past year, the survey found.

Some of the students benefiting from the housing program reported having to couch-surf, live with their families in shelters, or occasionally stay at hotels. Some of the students were kicked out of their family homes in high school and others may not have a guaranteed place to return to when residence halls close for school breaks.

Homeless students typically have an overflow of troubles, such as mental health issues and family responsibilities, that can push them out of a stable home, and the program needs to address these issues adequately, Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, the founder of the Wisconsin HOPE lab.

“Housing is such a big deal, but it might not be quite as transformative as they wish,” Goldrick-Rab said. Still, the program “is one of the more innovative things,” she said.

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