Providing Homeless Students with Access to Higher Education

    June 27, 2023 | Admin

    Applying to colleges and transitioning to higher education can be difficult for students. It’s even more difficult, however, for students faced with homelessness, food insecurity, and other challenges. Thankfully, there are many financial, educational, and social support opportunities for individuals who are homeless and attempting to access higher education. Find out how homeless college student assistance programs can help you or a loved one take the next step toward a college degree.

    Homeless Student Statistics

    According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, youth who don’t have access to a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” are considered homeless. This could include sleeping in hotels, shelters, vehicles, or other temporary locations.

    How many students are homeless? There are many factors that lead to homelessness. Unfortunately, a significant number of high school and college students are housing insecure or homeless in the United States. Some individuals who experience homelessness do not wish to self-identify as homeless, making it difficult to understand the extent of the issue.

    Here are some key statistics to highlight the problem of homelessness among students pursuing higher education:

    • According to The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, 17% of student respondents were homeless in 2019.
    • Approximately 46% of students were housing insecure in the same year, according to the same study.
    • The PBS News Hour found that 1.3 million students in primary and secondary schools were reported to be homeless in 2017.
    • The National Center for Homeless Education found that up to 9% of public school students who experienced homelessness were unaccompanied.
    • The same study found that 4% of students identified as homeless during the 2019-2020 school year stayed in unsheltered situations.

    Resources and Help for Homeless Students

    It’s important for students experiencing homelessness to reach out for support and assistance. There are many opportunities to not only reduce the risk of basic needs insecurity but also improve opportunities to pursue higher education. Explore some key housing, food, and mental health resources and help available for high school and college students.


    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a Public Housing Program for low-income families and individuals to access affordable and safe rental houses and apartments.

    There are many state-specific housing and homeless services that offer services, like the Housing and Homelessness Branch of the Family Engagement and Empowerment Division of the California Department of Social Services.

    Some colleges also offer information about local homeless resource centers and affordable housing. Students experiencing homelessness should reach out to student services at their college to see if there are any on-campus resources.

    There are also online resources that allow students to find affordable housing, including Sublet.com. This can provide long-term housing or at least accommodations during the academic year.


    The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) helps connect students with free or subsidized food access in the school and around the community. Here are some examples of food and nutrition support for college students:

    • USDA Interim Rule: This helps students experiencing homelessness receive free school meals.
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Formerly known as food stamps, this program offers assistance with purchasing food for an individual or household. The program is administered on a state-by-state basis, so eligibility requirements and available resources vary.

    Mental Health

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers many mental and substance use disorders resources specifically for individuals experiencing homelessness. From self-care tips to case management and social inclusion, you can find up-to-date information through webinars, videos, articles, and other online formats.

    The National Health Care for the Homeless Program offers healthcare resources specifically designed for individuals experiencing homelessness. Check for state-sponsored health care and mental health support as well.

    Financial Aid and FAFSA for Homeless Students

    Look for grants, loans, and other options for financing higher education. From SAMHSA grants to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), there are many opportunities to receive financial assistance as an individual experiencing homelessness and pursuing higher education.

    The FAFSA application asks if you are homeless or are at risk of homelessness. If an individual reports being homeless, then they may have to provide documentation. Once determined, this removes any parents’ income requirements for the application.

    Free Online Resources for Learning

    Once you or someone you know who is experiencing homelessness begins studying at college, it’s important to find resources to promote success. Here are free online resources to help students, particularly first-generation students, work toward a college degree:

    • Grammarly: This excellent app is free and helps you uncover grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors, and awkward phrasings to improve your writing ability.
    • Evernote: This note-taking app helps you organize notes, prepare for study sessions, and manage time in college.
    • Hemmingway App: Another free service that pairs well with Grammarly, this app helps you uncover passive voice, excessive adverb use, and complicated sentences to improve your writing.
    • Codeacademy: This free coding site helps you learn coding languages, gain valuable skills, and explore coding-related career paths.
    • Todoist: Organize your schedule, to-do list, and important projects to stay on track in college.

    Scholarships for Homeless Students

    There are many federal, state, and non-profit scholarships available for homeless college students assistance. Explore homeless student scholarships through Scholarships.com or the NCHE higher education scholarship list. Here are a few examples of scholarships that may be available for you:

    • Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Scholarship: This award is given out each June as a renewable scholarship for high school seniors who experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness.
    • Hope Starts Here Scholarship: This award is specifically available for students under the age of 21 who are living in New Hampshire. It can be used to defray the costs of college for any individual who is or has been homeless while attending school.
    • Horatio Alger Association Scholarships: This association awards students who have gone through adversity with a scholarship of $2,500. In 2022, the Horatio Alger Association expects to award 500 of these scholarships.

    Some of these programs offer need-based awards, while others combine need-based and merit-based assistance. Students may need to complete an application, write an essay, or schedule an interview as part of the application process for college scholarships.

    Other Resources and Hotlines

    Explore additional resources and emergency help hotlines to learn more about pursuing higher education as an individual experiencing homelessness. These homeless college students assistance resources and hotlines can help you or someone you know take the next step toward a college degree:

    Find the program that’s right for you

    Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

    Woman in graduation cap and gown
    Scroll to Top