University of New Brunswick Prof. Conducts Study on Student Homelessness

Eric Weissman leads a new study to learn about the nature of student homelessness and how to diminish it

According to a 2016 report by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 20 per cent of the homeless population in Canada is made up of people aged 13 to 24. (Kristen Frier)

As post-secondary education becomes increasingly important for Canadians entering the job market, a surprisingly high number of them are being forced to choose between earning a degree and having a place to call home.

According to a 2016 report called Without a Home: The National Youth Homeless Survey conducted by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, about 20 per cent of the homeless population in Canada is made up of people aged 13 to 24. In addition, nearly half of all young people who experience homelessness do so between the ages of 17 and 20, which is when most young Canadians are enrolled in college or university.

Though he dropped out of the University of Toronto due to his own struggles with homelessness and addiction, Eric Weissman is currently an assistant professor of social sciences at the University of New Brunswick. His experiences as a young man have led him to conduct his own study about homeless youth who attend post-secondary institutions, a topic which has not yet been thoroughly researched.

“Nobody ever believed it was happening to people in university because it’s considered a privileged experience,” says Weissman. “People assume that if they’re in university, they may have challenges, but they can’t be that bad. Turns out, they are that bad.”

According to Weissman, some have already recognized this and begun taking steps towards fixing the problem of homelessness for post-secondary students. In California, universities have built shelters and established food program for students to use, for example.

“[These places] talked about post-secondary student homelessness like it was a real issue,” he says. “There is nothing here.”

Weissman’s initial survey consisted of 40 questions about basic demographic information, mental health, and past or present experience with homelessness. Of the 189 respondents, 3.6 per cent of students said that they were presently homeless. When asked where they would sleep if they didn’t have a bed, 72.5 per cent of respondents said they would couch surf, while 13 per cent said they did not know where they would go.

“[Students taking part in the survey] think that couch surfing or staying at a friend’s house is just part of the hardship of going to school,” explains Weissman. “When they read those different definitions that we use, they say ‘Oh my god, I didn’t realize that I may be homeless.’”

Other findings from the survey reveal that 43 per cent of respondents were diagnosed with mental illnesses, and 23.7 per cent of those illnesses are still ongoing. This result was double what researchers had estimated, and Weissman wants to use future research to further define what this means for students.

Other institutions are trying to educate the public about the homelessness amongst college-age people and propose solutions for the problem as well. The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness details prevention strategies and suggests that there should be legislation that supports the human right to housing.

KPU students who are dealing with financial crises should consider visiting the Awards and Financial Assistance Office. They can also make use of the Kwantlen Student Association food bank program.

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