Helping homeless students in Washington

By AACC 21st Century Center Staff

An innovative partnership in Washington aims to end homelessness among students.

Tacoma Community College (TCC) and Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) have partnered to help TCC students who are homeless or almost homeless. The College Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) provides THA rental assistance to those students — most of whom are parents of young children — and helps them to stay in college.

CHAP was launched in 2014 and has served more than 175 students. Those participating in the program between 2014 and 2016 had higher GPAs and completion rates than those homeless or near-homeless students who did not participate.

In October 2018, CHAP expanded to allow students to use THA rental subsidies at a 62-unit building near campus. TCC students first claim on any vacancy at Highland Flats, owned by CWD Investments. They also can receive some deposit assistance and furniture from the Northwest Furniture Bank.

As a condition of the housing assistance, CHAP students are required to make adequate academic progress toward a degree. To help students, TCC provides navigators and completion coaches to support students through college.

“A college can offer wonderful programs and support services, but if students don’t have a place to go home to at night, chances are they won’t be finishing their programs,” TCC Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Chikwinya said in a press release. “CHAP gives students who are among the most likely to drop out a way to stay and finish.”

A 2016 basic needs survey by the University of Wisconsin’s HOPE LAB made some sobering revelations: 69 percent of TCC students responding to the survey reported serious housing insecurity within the 12 months prior to the survey; 27 percent reported that within those 12 months they experienced homelessness.

Harvard’s Kennedy School recently named CHAP among the nation’s top 25 most innovative governmental initiatives for 2018. The University of Washington – Tacoma also is part of CHAP.

“This partnership is an excellent investment in these striving but struggling students. A TCC degree is a key to their adult prosperity. And since most of them are parents, CHAP is also an investment in the lives and prospects of their children. That makes this partnership a very good use of scarce THA housing dollars,” said THA Executive Director Michael Mirra.

TCC also is ensuring students are well nourished. The college has a food pantry open three days a week. Starting this year, a refrigerated truck also will visit campus one day a week to provide food-insecure students and community members with perishable foods the TCC food pantry is currently unable to provide. The Nourish Pierce County truck visits campus on Tuesdays.

“The issues of food insecurity are real for our students,” TCC Director of Workforce Education Kelli Johnston said. “We couldn’t be more excited to collaborate with our community partners at Nourish to expand what we are doing to support our students and to be able to serve our surrounding community.”

AACC 21st Century Center Staff

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.