Student housing, Services for students, Homeless students, Homelessness -- Oregon -- Portland, Higher education, Portland State University
This study on student housing insecurity and homelessness was funded as part of a HUD FY2023 Community Project Funding Opportunity awarded to Portland State University. Phase 1 of the study, which led to this report by PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC), includes a literature review; a summary of PSU student survey results; a description of PSU programs based on interviews with staff and administrators; an analysis of programs at other institutions; and a set of recommendations for better addressing student housing needs. Phase 2 of the study will include the results of a comprehensive student survey on housing insecurity and homelessness to be conducted this fall, as well as a pair of reports by outside consultants on options for creating additional student housing and addressing policy barriers to effectively meeting student housing needs.
Student Housing Insecurity
PSU conducted in-depth surveys of student basic needs, including housing insecurity and homelessness, in 2019 and 2020, and has included a question on housing insecurity in the Student Experience Survey every year since 2020. The 2019 and 2020 survey results showed that up to 16% of PSU students had recently experienced homelessness, while housing insecurity has consistently been as high as 47% over the past five years, with a temporary decline in 2021 that may have been a result of COVID pandemic relief. Research studies have shown that housing insecurity and homelessness have negative impacts on academic performance, persistence, and graduation rates, while the provision of free housing has been demonstrated to positively impact persistence and graduation.
Homelessness and housing insecurity disproportionately affect PSU students who have experienced other challenges in their lives, particularly systemic racism and discrimination. This includes students of color (especially Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Native American, and Pacific Islander students), LGBTQ students, neurodiverse students, students with disabilities, students formerly in foster care, parenting students, veterans, international students, undocumented students, transfer students, first-generation students, and Pell Grant recipients. In short, a significant proportion of all PSU students fall within groups that are more likely to experience barriers to housing insecurity, but their diverse experiences and identities require a spectrum of equity-centered approaches to address their specific needs.
PSU has implemented a range of successful, evidence-driven programs to help address student housing insecurity and homelessness: vouchers for temporary placement in University Place Hotel and local motels; a student-only shelter, The Landing, in partnership with a local church; a free housing pilot for Summer Bridge Program students; student emergency funds and assistance for SNAP-enrolled students
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a guidebook for addressing student housing insecurity in higher education, which should be used in conjunction with the Education Northwest Basic Needs Services Implementation Rubric. The recommendations listed below, based on PSU interviews, conversations with national experts, and published literature, would help PSU substantially address current gaps in addressing student needs and implementing best practices and federal guidance. These items will be revised and updated based on the results of the student survey in fall.
- Center Equity in All Programs: given disparate rates of housing insecurity and homelessness, an equity lens that centers race while incorporating other factors of identity and experience is essential. Students, student resource centers, and the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion should be engaged in program design, implementation, and evaluation. It is critical to identify
- Provide Free and Subsidized Housing: although this will be fully addressed in the other reports for this project, student housing insecurity cannot be fully addressed without both free and subsidized housing. PSU does not currently offer free and subsidized student housing at the level recommended in research literature and implemented by many other institutions.
- Expand Funding for Current Programs: funding should be sufficient not only to sustain programs, but to fully address the direct costs of student needs and to ensure appropriate staffing levels and staff expertise.
- Unify Emergency Fund Applications: PSU offers a wide set of emergency funds, but differences in eligibility and application requirements create unnecessary barriers and confusion for students. Fund managers should develop a unified application that can route student requests based on eligibility.
- Enhance Program Coordination: the numerous programs, centers, and offices that help to address student housing needs should hold regular meetings to facilitate coordination, work to ensure that all academic advisors are aware of basic needs services, and proactively identify and reach out to students who may be in need.
- Use Pell Grant Eligibility as a Proxy for Need: Pell Grant eligibility can be used as a uniform method to identify and proactively engage with students who may be experiencing or at higher risk of housing insecurity.
- Ensure Comprehensive Outreach: basic needs services and resources should be communicated to students, faculty, and staff through a comprehensive campaign that includes on-campus events, digital communication, syllabus statements, and partnerships with student government and organizations.
© 2023 Portland State University
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Greene, J. (2023). PSU Student Housing Insecurity Interim Report. Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, Portland State University. https://archives.pdx.edu/ds/psu/40652
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