In 2013, there were around 36,000 documented homeless students in grades K-12 in Georgia, and those numbers continue to increase, according to Cyekeia Lee, director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
Lee visited UGA Jan. 22 to talk about the association and issues around homeless college students.
The lecture was sponsored by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a public service and outreach unit at UGA.
While working in the higher education system in Michigan, Lee was approached by a number of students who were not only in need of financial assistance to complete their degrees, but who also didn’t have a place to live.
According to Lee, the students she met were facing homelessness for a number of reasons.
“Day in and day out, I got to see students who were struggling to balance life and achieve academic goals,” she said.
In 2012, Lee joined NAEHCY’s higher education committee to help solve the homelessness issues that a large number of college students face. She wants to make sure that colleges and universities throughout the nation have support systems in place for homeless students on their campuses.
In addition to working face-to-face with students in need, Lee also helps staff the NAEHCY helpline, which is a resource for students in all states. Students are able to call the helpline for assistance in finding places to stay in their local areas.
In its first year, the helpline received the most calls from Georgia, Lee said.
During her lecture, Lee talked about a University System of Georgia initiative, EMBARK, which is designed to help address the specific needs of students who have experienced foster care or homelessness. Like NAEHCY, EMBARK is working to provide special services, including connections to resources for homeless students on each of the state’s 31 public college and university campuses.
Among other things, NAEHCY provides suggestions for the best practices on campuses to help students in need. These practices include making certain there’s a food and clothing bank available on campus as well as establishing coordination between financial aid offices, student support services and campus housing.
“At some point, I’d like to see all 50 states have a plan in place,” Lee said.