Marc Hall

HOST Halting Homelessness

In Buzz, June 2022 by Cameron Rhinehardt1 Comment

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NC State launches groundbreaking first program in U.S. to bolster student housing security. 

It’s hard enough to get into college, let alone figure out how to pay for tuition, books, supplies, food, transportation… and then there’s housing. What’s a student to do if on-campus options are too expensive or inaccessible? It’s a startling statistic, but homelessness affects 15% of NC State students—a rate which rose from 10% just five years ago and is consistent across the U.S. And, given safety, instability and insecurity concerns, not having a place to live can obviously deter many from going to college at all. 

That’s where Housing Options for Students Today (HOST) comes in—a new university program that allows students to live with a “host” family so they can focus on their studies while seeking stable housing. The first program of its kind in the U.S., HOST matches students with local community members who are willing to provide a short-term home to students while they work with HOST’s staff to ensure they have a plan for long-term, safe and affordable housing. 

In partnership with the BWEL Foundation, a Raleigh-based nonprofit dedicated to helping house single-parent families in postsecondary education, HOST is actively recruiting hosts and is almost at their goal, just in time to start housing students in August for the NC State 2022–23 school year. (If you’re interested in becoming a host yourself, there’s a meeting June 14 at 1801 Hillsborough St.) Better still, the program is already expanding and developing a partnership to serve students at Shaw University, which should be available to students soon.

“It’ll be somewhat like an Airbnb,” says Mary Haskett, chair of the HOST advisory board. “We’ll have a menu of options for students who need a spot.” Time spent in a home can vary from a few nights to a few months, giving students the time they need to come up with a game plan for long-term housing.

“Sometimes students are moving from a different area, and it is transitory housing insecurity they are experiencing,” adds Folasewa Olatunde, a member of the advisory board of HOST and a graduate student at NC State. “They’ll need a few nights or even a few weeks to save and afford housing.”

The program also boasts a diverse collection of hosts and employees, so students are adequately matched with hosts that will be the best fit for them culturally, physically and emotionally. Additionally, hosts must undergo screenings, background checks and training to ensure the space is safe, affirmative and stable for students.

Former Guilford College student Etienne Phillips was relying on student housing in the spring of 2020, but lost his permanent residence while attending school. Upon transferring to NC State over the summer, he struggled to find housing, especially after the pandemic pushed schools to close campus accommodations. 

“I became some version of homeless until attending NC State,” says Phillips. “Over this time, I stayed with a sibling, friends, on couches and floors, and in guest beds. … The HOST program is really incredible. There aren’t a lot of resources for housing for students, and if something like HOST existed while I was struggling, I would not have been forced to take a year off from school.”

Phillips highlights the fact that suffering with housing insecurity can also create difficulties finding a job, permanent housing, etc. “It was very hard to advance myself educationally or get a job. I didn’t have a job, marketable skills of any kind, and it was the start of the pandemic, so many jobs were not available,”
laments Phillips. 

His situation gives perspective to the kind of life-altering aid HOST can provide. “I am going through things one step at a time, but I am confident I will figure it out,” he says. “Knowing I had that support would have been huge. I would have had help to get a job and a car and whatever else I needed, and the HOST program is helping students do that now.” bwelnc.org

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Comments

  1. What a great resource as so many are feeling the pinch of reduced offerings in affordable housing here in the Triangle. Thank you for sharing this story to make us aware of these efforts!

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