Tuesday 03.07.2017

DePaul Dax Host Home Program Helps Students

After he had to leave an uncle’s home to make room for other relatives, Tony, an accounting major at DePaul University, found himself living on the streets of Chicago. On good nights, he would ride the city’s elevated trains so he could have a place to sleep. On bad nights, he curled up on an outdoor bench not far from DePaul’s downtown campus.

Another student who had no permanent home would sneak into a DePaul building that had showers at night so he could wash up before his classes began in the morning.

“There are students who are forced to leave their homes because they are put out, or they have to leave because they live in a very chaotic situation. Some lose their scholarships or can’t get federal loans and can’t pay for both their tuition and housing,” says Sister Judy Warmbold, a Daughter of Charity who helps DePaul students who do not have a reliable place to live.

The problem is hardly confined to DePaul, where student housing costs about $12,000 a year, or even in Chicago. Nationally hard data is lacking, but according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, 58,000 college students identified themselves as homeless in 2013, 75% higher than the 2010 figure. Experts believe that number represents a significant undercount of the true severity of the problem.

“We really try not to use the word ‘homeless;’ we prefer to say they face ‘housing insecurity’ because there is so much shame associated with the word ‘homeless,'” Sister Warmbold says.

Sister Warmbold coordinates the DePaul Dax Host Home Program, which seeks to match students who are experiencing financial difficulties with free or inexpensive hosing. The program is named after Dax, the town in France where St. Vincent de Paul was sheltered by a local family during his studies. DePaul officials believe their program could become a model for universities across the nation.

As tuition and fees rise, the affordability of housing is a growing concern for many students. For those who
do not receive financial aid at DePaul, tuition and fees total about $35,000 a year. With room and board added in, the cost jumps to nearly $51,000 annually. At many other top-rated schools, total costs can easily exceed $63,000 a year.

Tony’s story has a happy ending. The Dax program was able to relocate him to a small apartment. Its owner let him live there rent-free. Other students have been relocated to empty bedrooms at parish rectories or to rooms provided by families willing to host students in their homes.

Sister Warmbold says the accounting department at De Paul pitched in to help Tony thrive in his new home and ensure he could continue his studies. “They were amazed to learn what he went through. They had no idea,” she says.

Tony, now 29, has since graduated with an accounting degree. He works as a manager for H&R Block and oversees the accounts for DePaul USA, a charity that finds housing for the homeless. He also serves on the DePaul USA board.

His time on the streets, he says, “opened my eyes to so many things. I had seen people who were homeless, but I never comprehended it. The worst part for me was not knowing what was going to happen next.”

Tony says he never passes up a chance to speak about his homeless experience because he wants to “wipe out the shame” other students might feel about their predicament. Still, homeless students on campuses remain largely hidden from view. DePaul’s Dax program is now trying to purchase a residence not far from the campus where as many as 10 students can stay at a time.

Story originally published by America magazine.
Pictures do not depict any person in this story.