MTSU will present its program to help homeless students to other colleges and universities in Tennessee in an effort to serve this underserved student population.
A new state law that took effect July 1 requires each post-secondary educational institution funded by the state to designate a liaison to homeless students and to develop a program to give them access to housing. State officials chose MTSU’s program, which has been in effect since 2008, to serve as the model.
State Rep. Carson W. “Bill” Beck and state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both of Nashville, sponsored the measure in the Tennessee General Assembly. Becca Seul, associate director of MTSU’s MT One Stop, and Danielle Rochelle, MT One Stop coordinator of outreach and support programs, testified in support of the bill when it was in committee.
In preparation for sharing their expertise with other universities, Seul and Rochelle are working on a manual on how to start a homeless students program and how to obtain community resources to keep it running.
“It’s something that’s already in effect in the state, and we’ve been asked to serve as consultants … to other schools and agencies looking to start something like this,” said Seul.
At the start of each semester, Rochelle verifies which MTSU students are considered homeless under federal standards. Her office also extends aid to homeless students, unaccompanied minors and students who are aging out of foster care.
She also supervises the MTSU Student Food Pantry, a storeroom full of nonperishable edibles on the second floor of the MT One Stop.
Students have already made more than 100 visits to the pantry so far this semester. Since it began in 2012, the MTSU Student Food Pantry has collected more than 127,300 pounds of food, and students havev visited more than 5,463 times.
Rochelle also is in charge of the Safety Net Fund, which State Farm supports with a generous donation. MTSU established the fund to assist students who are at risk of losing their basic needs, which can include — but aren’t limited to — housing, food, health care and transportation.
“We require they show the need for it,” Rochelle said. “If they’re working, we require a check stub, and if they’re not working, a recent bank statement. If they need the money for food, we’ll give them a gift card toward food. If they need the money for housing on campus, we’ll send the money directly to housing.”
As part of their efforts, Rochelle and Seul also are formulating a “basic needs statement” for faculty to include in each class syllabus that will let homeless students know how to seek assistance on campus. A similar statement already in MTSU class syllabi addresses aid for disabled students.
“This is something that is going to bring a lot of attention to MTSU in a good way,” Seul said of the overall program. “It’s going to highlight a problem that’s a nationwide issue, but it’s going to show that MTSU is addressing the problem and has been for over a decade.”
For more information, contact Seul at 615-494-8910 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Rochelle at 615-898-2808 or email@example.com.
— Gina Logue (Gina.Logue@mtsu.edu)