Food Pantry One of the food pantries available to UAB students. (Photo by Pierce Newman).Pierce Newman - Staff Writer

College is a place where many students find a new home but this is not always the case.

In 2013, 58,000 students identified as homeless on the Free Application for Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. Family’s financial troubles and increasing tuition prices are two of many reasons students may find themselves homeless. During the day, homeless students are often indistinguishable from their fellow students, by night they may be living in shelters or even spending the night in Sterne.

The Jimmie Hale Mission, a local Christian, non-profit that provides shelter for the homeless, provides annual statistics on homelessness in Birmingham. Nine percent of individuals who stayed at the Jimmie Hale Mission across the country ranged from ages 18 to 25, and 28 percent had some college education, like UAB students.

The Office of Student Advocacy, Rights and Conduct is UAB’s primary department tasked with aiding these students.

The picture of homelessness among UAB students that Leslie Riley, a case manager with SARC, has seen “couch surfing, or staying temporarily with friends or family, which felt nomadic almost.”
She has seen students that have stayed in shelters and others that have stayed temporarily on campus due to lacking proper houses.

During peak semesters, the SARC can have as many as 200 students that it is assisting with homelessness, food insecurity, mental health concerns and other types of “significant stressors.”

The case managers that help meet the needs of the students in these groups have seen a rise in cases lacking housing and food. Riley believes that if students are struggling to obtain either food or shelter, they are usually having difficulties meeting other need as well.

“You may not guess it, but there may be someone in your class that is sitting next to you that is going through this crisis, so it’s about sensitivity and having knowledge,” Riley said.

Donor to Diner, a student-led organization on campus, has been active in advocacy and volunteering. Donor to Diner has partnered with the SARC to raise awareness about food insecurity and has played a pivotal role in collecting supplies for the campus pantries, which is sustained solely by donations. One of the initiatives the organization has conducted over the past year was working with UAB Dining to give students the chance to donate meals from their meal plan to their peers in need. Students donated over 200 meals through the initiative.

Under the SARC’s guidance, UAB also has two food pantries for students in need: in Denman Hall and in the Hill Student Center. These two pantries are in place to meet the needs of students who are food insecure, even when they are away from on-campus dining.

Student Housing and Resident Life plays a crucial role in conjunction with SARC to ensure that all students are provided proper housing. Brian O’Neal Johnson, the Director of Residence Life, has worked at UAB since the beginning of this semester and has already heard of and personally encountered homeless students.

“It’s important to note that this is very individualized. We work on a case by case basis, and if there is a student with a need we house them until we can find a more permanent solution,” Johnson said.
Many colleges and universities around the United States are closed during holiday breaks or require students to pay a fee if they stay on campus during that time. This can create difficulties for students that have nowhere else to stay.

UAB is an exception, with housing and staff available 24/7, 365 days a year, which is the reason why UAB does not have as many problems with meeting the needs of homeless students as other universities, according to Johnson.

In his short time with UAB Housing, Johnson has already successfully paired two students with temporary accommodations when they expressed a need for them.

“I think we do a really good job here at UAB identifying those students and trying to help them,” he said.

Being available for students in need has been gratifying, according to Riley. “Having the knowledge that I’m committing my life to helping people that are in difficult or distressing situations, helping them navigate their specific circumstances and find hope through what can be a very hopeless situation, I find that to be extremely rewarding,” Riley said.