By Jordyn Roark, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, BSW candidate
I want to stress the importance of the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (HEASHFY). I, myself, was an unaccompanied homeless youth throughout high school and college and I know first-hand how homelessness can affect access to higher education. I have created a list of reasons why HEASHFY is important to me and why it will be instrumental in the lives of students experiencing homelessness.
HEASHFY is important because:
- Every year (for the past 4 years), I have been left in tears as I try to apply for financial aid as an unaccompanied youth. HEASHFY works to remove barriers and streamline this process.
- I have been re-traumatized multiple times by having to explain my story over and over again even when my situation has not changed. HEASHFY allows me to maintain my status throughout my educational journey unless my situation changes.
- Just because I am 22 does not mean that I am not still experiencing homelessness and in need of FAFSA to finish my education. HEASHFY makes clear that a student 23 and under who is determined to be unaccompanied and experiencing homelessness is an independent student.
- While I didn’t stay in a HUD-funded shelter and I had trouble reaching my McKinney-Vento Liaison, I was heavily involved in TRIO and they had the information necessary to verify my status. HEASHFY lets TRIO, GEAR-UP, and some private and public shelters verify independent status.
- When I was trying to verify my status, I was bounced between various professionals, because my financial aid administrator was resistant about making the determination. HEASHFY states that financial aid administrators must verify a student’s status if they do not have another avenue of verification
- Had I not received the status I needed for financial aid, I would have needed a way to dispute the decision. HEASHFY provides a dispute resolution process.
- Without public postings of FAFSA information, many students like myself don’t know about independent status and how experiencing homelessness affects financial aid. HEASHFY requires these postings by financial aid offices.
- I NEED a person on my campus who is my point of contact, who understands and has knowledge of what I am experiencing. HEASHFY requires this person on every college campus.
- I almost dropped out of school because I had nowhere to live during the month of December and summer breaks. I need housing that is open year-round. HEASHFY requires that higher education institutions develop a plan for these periods where campus housing may be closed.
- TRIO and GEAR-UP have the potential to be instrumental programs for individuals like me and TRIO has been a huge support throughout my college journey. HEASHFY requires that these programs support, identify, and work with students experiencing homelessness.
- My living situation (even out of state at times) is not always in my control and without in-state tuition, I likely would not have been able to attend college. HEASHFY gives students experiencing homelessness/foster care in-state tuition.
- Work study allowed me to have enough money to afford textbooks, hygiene supplies, food, and other basic necessities that I would have otherwise been without. HEASHFY gives work study priority to students experiencing homelessness.
Lastly, HEASHFY is important because throughout my journey these past four years, the areas that this law addresses are the same ones that almost caused me to not graduate college, and I can guarantee they are having the same effect on other students. This legislation is vital for the success of this population. By supporting HEASHFY, you are telling me that you see me and that you support my education.
Please support HEASHFY so that Jordyn and other students can access and succeed in higher education.
- Urge your Members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors of both bills. We’ve created two sample letters in Microsoft Word – one for your U.S. Senators, and one for your U.S. Representative. Please download the letters and personalize them with local or state facts, as well as your own perspectives and experiences. Contact information for U.S. Senators may be found here. Contact information for U.S. Representatives may be found here.
- If you represent a local, state, or national organization, sign your organization on as a supporter of the bills by filling out this form.