Program helps homeless Tacoma college students off streets

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by ZAHID ARAB / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 27 at 10:18 PM

A new pilot program by the Tacoma Housing Authority aims to increase college graduation rates and get homeless students off the streets.

A couch, a car or a shelter is what hundreds of Tacoma Community College students call home.

“There is not a lot of low cost housing in the Tacoma area,” said Shema Hanebutte, Dean of Counseling and Advising.

Most end up dropping out because of their living situations.

“Overwhelmingly, students that were surveyed said housing was an issue. It causes them to not take as many classes as they want, it causes them to think about not completing,” said Michael Power, Manager of Educational Programs.

The “Tacoma Community College Housing Project” will offer students in need rental assistance during their enrollment through graduation. They must attend full-time and have no felonies on their record.

“Yesterday I almost quit,” said Carolyn Jones, a student studying to become a paralegal.

Jones, 45, lost her job because of an injury and was broke with three daughters to feed. She’s been staying at a church shelter the last 10 months.

“A lot of my classmates have no clue,” she said.

According to Jones, studying becomes impossible with the stress of not having a permanent place to live.

“I go to sit down to read a book and all I see is homeless. There are words on the paper but I see homeless,” said Jones.

“From elementary school through Tacoma Community College, there are a significant number of students who don’t have a fair chance to succeed because they’re homeless,” said Michael Mirra, Tacoma Housing Authority Executive Director.

A similar program at McCarver Elementary, where 9 out of 10 students come from poverty saw big results. After two years, the student turnover rate dropped dramatically from 179% to 4%.

“I need help, pride went out the window months ago,” said Jones.

Jones plans to apply for the program and already knows the first thing she’ll do if she gets housing.

“I’m probably going to lay in the middle of the floor and do little snow angels, just lay on the floor and flop around,” she said.

Program applications go out in July for the upcoming fall semester. Anyone interested should contact TCC’s student services department.

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