Colleges Support Homeless Students by Designating One Point of Contact

Diverse hands holding diplomas

As films like "The Homestretch" spur continued conversations about the educational needs of homeless youth, some colleges and universities are implementing a new model to assist unaccompanied young people. Similar to the way homelessness liaisons coordinate services for children and youth in public school districts, “single points of contact,” or SPOCs, at postsecondary institutions help homeless young people complete forms, access departments and balance academic workloads.

Spearheaded by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, or NAEHCY, networks of university employees in states like Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina have begun working to help homeless students overcome common barriers to earning their degrees. Colleges are not required by law to have a single point of contact for students who are homeless or otherwise on their own, but many have taken this step to prevent young people from falling through the cracks.

“People are doing this as a call to justice, for social justice,” says Marcy Stidum, coordinator of the Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment Center and associate director of counseling and psychological services at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Here are three tips for family and youth workers collaborating with single points of contact to help homeless young people succeed in higher education:

1. Plan ahead for all the paperwork. Contact the campus single point of contact, or the admissions or financial aid office, well before youth begin the application process. Mary Giggs, financial aid advisor and single point of contact at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, says independent youth often need extra help gathering documents, particularly for establishing residency (to get in-state tuition) and independent student status (so they can apply for financial aid on their own). A single point of contact can help applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and coordinate their materials, but plenty of lead time is necessary.

2. Share any disabilities young people have, including specific learning needs. When it comes to students with disabilities, post-secondary institutions have different obligations than those you may be used to in dealing with local school districts. Colleges and universities are required to make appropriate academic adjustments to avoid discriminating against students because of their disabilities, for example, but it is up to students to speak up about their needs.

Single points of contact can help youth coordinate with on-campus disability centers to request accommodations like reduced course loads and extended test times. If youth have special needs or disabilities that were assessed when they were in elementary, middle or high school, that information is available in their individualized education program, or IEP. Stidum says it is important that applicants bring the IEP to the campus disability services center early on so specialists can determine whether the youth will need accommodations during their studies.

3. Tap into the contact’s campus knowledge. Michelle Brown, associate director of admissions for adult and nontraditional student recruitment at Metropolitan State University of Denver, says she keeps a running list of point-people and campus resources that could benefit unaccompanied young people. You can sit down with students to think through the types of assistance they need, such as student counseling, food banks and clothing donations, then help them reach out to the point of contact to make those needs known.

To find out if any of the colleges or universities in your area have single points of contact, contact NAEHCY's higher education hotline.

Read about NAEHCY’s toolkit "College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness."

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