How homelessness is a reality for some Philly students

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — TyeTeona Harding has a lot to do.

A double major in criminal justice and sociology can do that for you. But managing the demands of a grueling course load was only part of the battle for the 23-year-old junior.

Harding started at La Salle University in 2018 but left in 2019 because she wasn’t in the right headspace. Then, in March 2020, her aunt passed away.

A few months later, in October, she was shot, the bullet passing through her legs and arm, leaving behind fragments stuck in her body to this day.

The shooting was followed by further casualties.

A cousin died in February 2021. Harding’s sister died in March. Last June, she lost her brother the day after his birthday.

Yet through all the trauma, Harding ultimately wanted to return to La Salle.

But she still had another hurdle to clear: Harding had no place to stay.

so what did she do?

“I was living out of my car,” Harding said.

She has the evidence to prove it in the trunk of her white 2013 Nissan Altima four-door sedan. There is a large orange storage container full of clothes. An industrial-grade power bank to charge their electronic devices or, in an emergency, their car. Blankets, sneakers, a big fluffy coat from his sister for the cold Philadelphia winters, a jug of water.

TyeTyona Harding’s 2013 Nissan Altima trunk.

Photo CreditBrian Seltzer/KYW Newsradio

Harding stuffed as much of her life as she could into fifteen and a half cubic feet. “I was a little disappointed to have been in that situation,” she said. “I feel like it’s a bit awkward.”

Throughout the Philadelphia area and the rest of the country, many students can relate.

How could this happen?

How could students like TyeTeona Harding, who have already overcome so much just to put themselves in a position to graduate, be thrust into such a dire and dangerous situation, all because they cannot cover a basic need like housing?

“It’s a complicated question; however, I can tell you that if we only look at affordability and social justice, we have a problem,” said Paula Umaña, Director of Institutional Engagement for the Center of Hope for College, Community and Justice at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

“What is happening today and what happened [past] decades, students want to get an education as a way to earn a living wage, [and] decide to step in and they say, “Whatever it takes”. I need a diploma.

“In the meantime, we have students with very, very limited financial aid that barely covers tuition, right? To be able to get full financial aid, you have to be below the poverty line, and that, in a first world country, in my opinion, is a problem.

Take TyeTeona Harding, for example. The way she explains it, her financial aid package only covered her classes at La Salle.

“Then I have my car, my phone bills that I have to pay,” Harding said. “I have books on top of that, so it was kind of sad.

“It’s tricky. You would expect that, if I was accepted into the school, they would take away at least some of that.

Tye Tyona Harding

Tye Tyona Harding

Photo CreditBrian Seltzer/KYW Newsradio

Overwhelmed by so much spending, Harding said she was beginning to wonder if her school wanted her at all.

“We have a higher education system that does not recognize [whole] making the student body,” Umaña said. “They know who’s signing up, but they’re targeting their students like everyone can afford a dorm, everyone can afford food, everyone can go home to their parents.”

Since 2015, the Hope Center has conducted the most comprehensive annual survey of student basic needs insecurity nationwide.

In 2020, after surveying over 195,000 students at two- and four-year tertiary institutions, the survey found that 52% of two-year students faced some form of housing insecurity – inability to pay rent or mortgage, couch surfing, instability at home, things like that.

The number was slightly lower for four-year-olds, at 43%. Homelessness, meanwhile, affected 14% of two- and four-year college students nationally.

Umaña said the numbers in Philadelphia were comparable.

“These students sacrifice themselves…to pay for tuition, textbooks, rent, mortgage, child care. At some point, some of them give up because the barriers are so pervasive.

Unsurprisingly, students from marginalized communities — Black, Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, low-income — are most at risk of falling through the cracks.

As part of her work, Umaña urges colleges and universities to take ownership of housing insecurity and homelessness, and ensure students can connect effectively and efficiently with on-campus or government tools. to find accommodation. She also thinks philanthropic support can help.

“Belonging is a big part of student success. If you eat, you are able to learn. If you don’t have to worry about where you’ll be spending your next night, you can graduate much sooner.

“It’s my dream – that [the United States] is exemplary for the whole country, for the whole world. May people look up to us with admiration for the way we treat our students like humans first and ensure that our education is fair and uplifting.

It took about two weeks, but eventually La Salle University helped TyeTeona Harding find accommodation.

“They’ve been one of my biggest supporters,” Harding said of La Salle.

Instead of the front seat of a 2013 Nissan Altima, Harding now has a room of her own in the former convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which a nonprofit, DePaul USA, has converted into a dormitory for the students who are insecure or homeless.

“We welcome students who are wards of the state and are no longer in the system,” said Nakiya Glover, senior program advisor for DePaul USA at Germantown-based St. Joseph’s House.

“We receive students who do not have an adoptive family. We receive people who come from violent homes, whether verbally or physically or even sometimes sexually violent. We receive a good amount of international students. Then we have people who are simply homeless on the streets, who have been basically abandoned by their families, who are living in housing insecurity.

St. Joseph's House

St. Joseph’s House

Photo CreditBrian Seltzer/KYW Newsradio

Maison Saint-Joseph has 24 single occupancy rooms. Like some college dorms, the lifestyle is communal.

The building also has a spacious dining room; bright, airy and newly remodeled kitchen; and a common area with a big-screen TV, bookshelves, board games, and video game consoles.

Glover said: “We wanted it to feel like a dorm because there’s so much stigma around homelessness, and so especially for these kids and their peers, we really wanted them to feel as home as possible.”

Nakiya Glover, Senior Program Advisor at St. Joseph's House.

Nakiya Glover, Senior Program Advisor at St. Joseph’s House.

Photo CreditBrian Seltzer/KYW Newsradio

But unlike a traditional college dorm, students living in St. Joseph’s House (which has no affiliation with St. Joseph’s University) come from different schools: La Salle, Temple, Community College of Philadelphia, Jefferson, Chestnut Hill College and Holy Family.

Instead of battle songs and mascots, residents bond over a deeper shared experience.

Whether they don’t feel safe at home or need to be couch surfing, jumping from shelter to shelter or, in TyeTeona Harding’s case, living in a car, all St. Joseph’s House students have, at one time, experienced housing insecurity. or homelessness throughout their university career.

Despite the obstacles, Harding did not slow down.

“I was just thinking about a better life for myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to just die randomly on the street. Lost bullets don’t have anyone’s name on them. I just feel like I wanted to be out there and get my name out there.

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