How can I avoid being homeless?
March 19, 2010 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm in college, have no income and I'm pretty close to being homeless. Is there anything I can do to get more financial aid from my school (which would cover housing/food/etc)?

I've been unemployed for two years, and previously my Mom was supporting me while I lived at school. However, she is no longer able to pay her own bills and can no longer help me out.

She was able to pay for the dorm room for the rest of the semester, but after that I'm on my own.

I have absolutely no place I can stay. I have social anxiety, which means that I haven't made any friends I could crash with. My current plan is to go to the homeless shelter once the semester ends, but obviously I'd rather not end up there.

I've tried career counseling, various methods of job searching (at fast food/retail since that's all I qualify for), and trying to get more financial aid from the school. I feel that at this point my only chance at being able to stay in school and have a place to stay is to get declared independent on the FAFSA, so that I will receive aid based on my income (which is nothing.)

Is there any way I can do this? Explaining my situation to the school didn't help. I looked up the emancipation rules in my home state (Ohio), and I'm already considered legally emancipated and can't do a post-18 emancipation for aid purposes.

I know there's something you can register with if you're homeless, but I'm not sure how to do that. When I researched it, it appeared to be mostly for people who already had an income and paid rent, but could no longer able to for some reason.

I also tried applying for welfare, but because I have no children, I was unable to receive aid.

I have no savings or assets, and after this semester I won't be able to afford food either. I'm a 19 year old freshman, turning 20 this year. I can't return home; Mom is struggling and is pretty much in financial disarray. (she has $8 in her bank account but has someone supporting her, same person that got me the dorm for the rest of the semester. No that person can't continue helping me.) However, she makes way too much money for me to really get any help via the FAFSA. (I don't know what's causing the discrepancy.)

I'd prefer to stay in school, because it's (extremely) important to me but also because I need to be a full-time student to stay on my Mom's insurance, and I have a disability that needs meds to be managed. (I didn't try for SSI because I can still work/learn just fine and that seemed to be the deciding factor.) But obviously if it comes down to school vs having a place to stay/food, I'll choose the latter, so feel free to suggest things that'd require me to drop out.

Is there anything that can help someone in my situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you go to school? Knowing where you are can help people direct you to local/university resources. Good luck.
posted by mdonley at 4:46 PM on March 19, 2010

Have you tried employment agencies? I don't know how big your university is, but mine had a temp agency run by the school itself that was able to hook me up with what turned into a permanent job on campus.
posted by something something at 4:46 PM on March 19, 2010

I understand that you spoke to someone with your school regarding financial aid, but I recommend trying again and then again, if necessary.

Go back to the Financial Aid office (or the equivalent) and explain that you may be forced to leave school and/or become homeless and that you need to know ALL of your options. If they can't (or won't) help you, then ask them to refer you elsewhere.

It can be easy for students to fall through the cracks, so be persistent. Go to your Residential Life office and see if they have advice, recommendations or referrals. Speak to your academic advisor, speak to faculty you have come to know, go to the Student Employment office and ask them to help you with job placement. Are you a part of any clubs or associations at your college? Do you participate in any religious or spiritual programs? Have you sought help from the campus health center? Have you worked with a campus therapist? Look at all your resources and make sure you are looking for help everywhere you can.

I understand that this can feel like a waste of time, but don't take no for answer. I know that meeting all these people can be particularly intimidating to someone with social anxiety, but you may have to be your own advocate until you find someone to help. Don't be a nuisance, but don't let yourself be brushed aside by the bureaucracy.

Good luck!
posted by annaramma at 5:03 PM on March 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

If your parents are unable to provide for you, you should be able to declare yourself an independent student, which should result in more federal aid. Your financial aid office should be able to help with the process.
posted by susanvance at 5:29 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

MeFi mail me with your contact info: unfortunately, I don't make enough to help out with rent, but I'd be happy to cover groceries for a month or so.
posted by halogen at 5:38 PM on March 19, 2010 [12 favorites]

Also, start doing all of these things, now.
posted by halogen at 5:39 PM on March 19, 2010

Argh, I didn't read closely enough - the first thing I would ask your financial aid office for is a written explanation of how they interpret your situation (annaramma's suggestions are great). The details don't seem to add up currently.

If you really, really can't seem to work anything out, one backup option that you might try for is applying with Americorps. You'd have to take a year off, but it would get you a living stipend, health insurance, and money for college.
posted by susanvance at 5:42 PM on March 19, 2010

What about being a nanny or au pair? Or a live-in caretaker for an elderly or disabled person?
posted by Ashley801 at 5:42 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I realize that it is far from a very useful option at this point, but my girlfriend brought up that she knows several people who got married to be declared financially independent from their parents.

So, yeah. Sorry I don't have better advice, hopefully other people will. It does seem to potentially be a way out of that horrid quagmire of pre-25 FAFSA nonsense, though, so I thought I'd mention it. Good luck.
posted by Stunt at 5:56 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

do you qualify for food stamps? are there food pantries or church soup kitchens? Can you get a work study job in the dining hall (or a friendly restaurant) so you can eat?
posted by availablelight at 6:04 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no savings or assets, and after this semester I won't be able to afford food either.

Without knowing which school you attend I cannot tell you this for sure, but many schools have food banks for students. If your school doesn't, your local are probably does. This won't really help address your underlying situation, but you may already qualify to access their services -- and even if you don't, they can most likely direct you to other providers who can help you.
posted by onshi at 6:06 PM on March 19, 2010

My roommate in college made over a hundred dollars a month selling her plasma at a local plasma buy-y place. It was enough to cover her share of the rent. Perhaps there is a similar business in your area? I know it won't solve all the problems you outlined but an extra hundred or two a month certainly couldn't hurt.
posted by Syllables at 6:11 PM on March 19, 2010

P.S. If your financial aid office can't help with educational expenses, your school chaplain's office might at least be able to hook you up with local charities to insure food/shelter, and possibly even get you a caseworker (Catholic Charities, etc.) to follow up on any way to make sure you don't lose the accommodations you need for your disability. You can be an atheist/satanist/whatever and still use your chaplain.
posted by availablelight at 6:15 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, school is important, but it may not be the first priority right now. Things are tough (I'm assuming your in the US) right now, what we want may not be what we need.

A few years of getting yourself solvent, working, saving some money, returning to school, avoiding more student debt, may, in the long run, serve you well.

Step back from this a moment, look at the long term, and do what you need to do to establish yourself as a self sufficient adult.

And, like halogen, memail me for some short term help...
posted by HuronBob at 6:25 PM on March 19, 2010

Links answering your question. Not great answers, mind you.

Tips on how to live the homeless lifestyle if you have to:
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:30 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am really surprised that financial aid couldn't help you. Go and speak to them again. Seriously. They have ways to help students like you.
posted by k8t at 6:42 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

HuronBob is exactly right. School seems like a safe place for you so of course you want to stay there no matter what it takes, however borrowing your way into five figure debt is going to bury you once you graduate from college (I know, that seems a long way off in the future so you think you will be able to pay it by then). Your priority now is to get a job (or three) and take care of your bills. Check Craigslist for a room to rent (not a whole apartment, you can't afford it), find your local food banks, consider going to college part time and paying as you go, generate as many source of income as you can (ie: give blood, get a paper route, walk dogs, etc), and check into other social services in your community that you qualify for. There was a great website a few years back but it has since been taken down, it was called Homeless at NYU in which a guy blogged about being a homeless student at NYU. Another guy lived in his van in the parking lot of the university he attended. Get creative but certainly don't get into more debt!
posted by MsKim at 6:47 PM on March 19, 2010

Anonymous' main priority also needs to be to maintain medical coverage for a disability.

You need a social worker who knows what programs are available to you. If you've been certified as disabled (even as "working disabled") you may be eligible for programs, even if it's just through drug manufacturer deals. Only someone familiar with social services in your home state knows for sure.
posted by availablelight at 6:54 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

availiablelight has a good point...prioritize looking at sources to maintain treatment for medical issues.
posted by HuronBob at 7:24 PM on March 19, 2010

The majority of students get by in college, but the majority of those student don't have rich parents. They work. On-campus employment exists solely for students. What's your campus like? Do you have a library, a cafeteria, computer labs? Are there dorms for which you can apply as an RA and stay and work at no cost? Go to your campus careers office as soon as you can.

I can understand if you're facing this situation as a non-student, but a school environment is far cushier.
posted by theraflu at 7:27 PM on March 19, 2010

College towns are really good places to find cheap housing for the summer months. Apartments are usually done on a full-year basis, even though the tenants are leaving at the end of the semester. The key is to find a sub-let for the summer. The closer to the last day of finals you get, the cheaper you'll be able to find something. I was able to find a summer sub-let for about $100/month a few years ago.

College towns are also pretty good places to find summer jobs. A lot of the students who have jobs are going to be leaving, and those jobs are going to still be there. Especially good are restaurant jobs. If your social anxiety allows, try getting a job waiting tables, and work as often as you can. You can make really good money. If you don't think you'd be able to do that, consider becoming a barback at a bar. Most times, they get a cut of tips, which--at the right bar--can be a decent amount of money. If nothing else, get a job in a kitchen. You're not going to get paid much more than minimum wage, but a lot of restaurants give cooks a free meal every shift. If you work five or six shifts a week, you can cut the hell out of your grocery bill.

Cheap housing and food allows you to save a lot of money.
posted by LDL707 at 7:27 PM on March 19, 2010

Nthing to be more persistent with your financial aid office and res life in emphasizing that you do not have a financial safety net.
posted by desuetude at 8:06 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you go through the university counseling center, or the office of student life, or similar things (call up and get an appointment, ask them if they can help you sort this out)? A counselor might be able to help you work through your options, and think about which choices are most helpful right now.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 PM on March 19, 2010

You say you're a freshman - can you go to community college (both to maintain your status as a full-time student for insurance purposes, and to keep accumulating credits)? Community college can be very cheap.

Also - you're obviously intelligent/articulate/computer literate, so don't limit yourself to retail/fast food - you might be able to get a job doing some sort of office work (if the economy didn't suck right now it would be more of a sure thing.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2010

Another vote for finding a campus job. My department runs ~ 6 computer labs and we employ 70 students. You don't even need much computer knowledge to start with. And hell... it can't hurt to try.

There's also the campus cafeterias, campus rec (gyms, pools, hockey rink, etc), bookstore, graders (although they probably have the fewest hours and make the least money), and library staff. That's just off the top of my head. You'd be surprised at how much of a campus is run solely by students after 5pm.

And a lot of these jobs have a high turnover rate. We're always hiring.
posted by sbutler at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2010

Nthing going to the chaplain or any religious organization on campus. I worked for the Jewish Students association and we would help anyone who asked for it.

nthing again that you need to be persistent. keep going back until you find someone who will listen to you. be as nice as you can be, it will go a long, long way. showing up first thing in the morning, when the offices first open, is a great thing to do because they aren't super-busy. showing up at lunchtime or when someone is trying to go home will diminish your ability to get sympathy. be sure you write down all of your questions, what everyone tells you, who told you in what office, and get the date. if they can't help you, ask if they know someone or something that can. even if they tell you something you already know or tried, thank them for their help and ask them if they know of anything else.

another way to get assistance might be trying a non-campus food bank or soup kitchen and ask to talk to whoever is in charge. having pastor bob make a phone call to campus might get someone to listen who wasn't listening previously. they also will know what services you are entitled to and eligible for, and can refer you to other people who will know what you can get. they will know people who can get you into things like emergency housing, where you can get one-time emergency cash grants, etc. i volunteer at a soup kitchen and we could care less what your religion is. that may be different depending on where you are in the US but do what you need to do to get help.
posted by micawber at 8:38 PM on March 19, 2010

Do you have a professor you're close to? An academic advisor you trust? if a student came to me and said that not being able to eat or have a place to sleep was a possibility, I would do major stuff to try to help out. I'm sure the college has resources of various sorts, and having other people call people (or even just know the right people to talk to) could help.

But you need to tell someone you're in a difficult position.

(I had a student once who was crashing on friends' couches because there was a bad home situation she had to get out of. If she'd told me I would have offered her our spare room! But she didn't tell me until after the situation had resolved itself.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:00 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Find out who runs the summer camps and conferences at your school (could be Res Life, Event Services, or another office) and see if the will hire you as a summer worker. You should be able to stay in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria, but be advised that you'll probably be living with and supervising junior high folks (Go Cheer camp!). It could buy you some time for the summer but it's not a long term solution.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:44 PM on March 19, 2010

Some colleges have better safety net provisions than others, some colleges are better equipped to deal with at-risk students, and some colleges pay closer attention to students in need than others. It all depends on where the school is, who its main student population is, whether it's urban or rural, public or private. I don't think it's sufficient to just say to the OP "Surely your school has an office that can help you out."

To the OP: I agree with others here who've said that you need to be persistent with your student residential education and financial aid offices -- even if it feels burdensome or overwhelming. I would also advise you to go to the campus counseling office if you've not already. They are there to help, but more importantly, they are plugged into community resources that the other more bureaucratic offices on campus may have no idea even exist.

Without knowing the specific school that you are attending or what town or county you're in, it's really hard to offer specific advice. I would check out the website for NCHE and see if there's anything there that can help, and I would call them at 800-308-2145 as soon as you possibly can. Their office is in North Carolina but they are a national clearinghouse.
posted by blucevalo at 10:40 PM on March 19, 2010

PS - need summer housing? Become a summer camp counselor.
posted by k8t at 11:32 PM on March 19, 2010

previously my Mom was supporting me while I lived at school. However, she is no longer able to pay her own bills and can no longer help me out.

This change in circumstance surely changes your EFC doesn't it?

The financial aid office should be able to help you with filing an appeal.
posted by juv3nal at 3:08 AM on March 20, 2010

You'll also be able to be considered independent if your mother applies for a PLUS loan (federal loan for parents) and is denied.
posted by autoclavicle at 4:28 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work at a university--not in this particular area, but am familiar with some of the options students have.


Next, call your financial aid office back and schedule a meeting with an aid counselor. When you talked to them before, did you explain that you were in crisis, or did you just ask about your eligibility in general terms? This can make a huge difference in the answer you get. You need to make it clear that you need to speak to someone about obtaining emergency aid. They will explain to you why you do or don't qualify for various forms of aid and will have access to information about scholarships and grants in addition to loans (loans are NOT your only option!). You have to tell them exactly what your situation is--they can't help you if they don't know what you need.

Document every step of this process--write your questions down, and their answers. Take notes and names. This isn't to be adversarial, just to make sure everything gets addressed that needs to be. Financial aid can be very complex, and it's easy to miss as step or create an unintended gap.

If they can't help, your school should have some kind of disability services office. If you have a verifiable disability, they can help you from that angle. Disability can make you eligible for more assistance, and they will know what's available.

Document every step of this process.

If that doesn't work, your school should have an office called something like "Dean of Students" or "Provost of Undergraduate Education" or some variation. The titles you're looking for are Dean and Provost. Get all your documentation together and call them. Ask for a meeting with the appropriate administrator.

Again, document everything.

College administrators do, despite their reputation as heartless bureaucrats, want to help you stay in school if at all possible. (Also, a high dropout rate looks bad for them.) And most schools have reinforced their safety nets for students in the past few years as a result of the financial crisis. If all else fails, a letter to the university's president/chancellor may help.

Good luck.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:36 AM on March 20, 2010

Meant to say: First, gather all the information you have about your current financial situation and write up a list of needs. Then proceed as above.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:37 AM on March 20, 2010

"I need to be a full-time student to stay on my Mom's insurance, and I have a disability that needs meds to be managed"

Well, if the health reform bill passes tomorrow, my understanding is that one of the immediate changes is that young people will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26 regardless of student status. (Source: Health care reform bill 101: How long will reform take?)
posted by Jacqueline at 11:56 PM on March 20, 2010

Also, look into jobs with the Campus Housing or Resident Life (or whatever they're called at your school) departments -- often those jobs include free or subsidized dorm housing as one of the benefits. Usually those jobs require social interaction, but it may be possible to get a maintenance or night watchperson type of position instead.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:01 AM on March 21, 2010

Where I went to school, renting a room in a house off-campus was WAY cheaper than dorm living + meal plan. Can you look into off-campus housing once you have an income source?
posted by Maarika at 4:27 PM on March 21, 2010

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