CHICAGO — It’s a problem not many people know about — college students who don’t have enough money to pay for food or housing. With the rising cost of tuition, sometimes there’s nothing left for their basic needs. This issue even impacts college students in Chicago.
Every quarter, at least 50 DePaul University students don’t have a place to live and even more don’t have enough food to eat. Scholarships and aid help them pay for tuition, but they can’t afford campus housing and a meal plan, so these students are struggling just to get through the day.
A woman who WGN is only identifying as "Shannon" said she couch surfed a few times when she got to DePaul. When she had worn out her welcome, riding the CTA was the next option.
“Because when you’re in college you think it’s just academics and I don’t think a lot of people knew that I was in this situation,” she said.
Shannon said she was ashamed because she couldn’t afford a meal or a place to sleep. She was also stressed because her grades were falling. She couldn’t even buy books, and she had no family home to return to.
“I knew I was smart and I knew I was overcoming adversity but couldn’t make it over the housing so I thought, ‘Oh I have to stop now,’” she said.
She was about to quit when she discovered the Dax House.
Dax House is part of DePaul USA — it’s not associated with the university but is a non-profit run by the St. Vincent DePaul Society. DePaul USA has locations in six cities which help the homeless. The Chicago chapter only helps homeless students, and for now, only students from DePaul. There are six students that live in the Ukrainian Village home. The Dax Program also helps the students pay for food and books.
Chuck Levesque wants to take the Dax model nationwide where 12 percent of college students are housing and food insecure. He said due to the rising cost of college, student homelessness is a nationwide crisis.
“We are not addressing the problem in its entirety but we’re trying to chip away at it,” Levesque said.
Hayley Braxton moved to Chicago from a small town in Kentucky. When she got here, she was staying with a family friend.
“I was on an air mattress in the middle of the dining room. No privacy and no internet,” she said.
That family friend moved and Braxton had nowhere to go. She was accepted to Dax House shortly after.
Housing includes a $150 Aldi gift card every month if they need it. Students have to work ten hours a week and be in good standing at the school. The house has a kitchen and living room.
Abe Morris is the director of the program and lives at the house.
“If you look at the basic needs, food water and shelter and safety, I mean this is what this house does. This is what this home does,” Morris said.
Dom Coronel has not had his basic needs met for the past six years.
Coronel is very open about his traumatic childhood. When he was a boy, his mother died from addiction and mental illness. His father has been in and out of prison his whole life. For half of his 23 years, Coronel lived with various friends, on park benches and in cars. But at the end of the day, he was on his own.
To get through the trauma and uncertainty, he read constantly, knowing that knowledge meant power, and he was going to do whatever he could to get a degree. However, the toll it took on him became unbearable. He was broken.
“It got to a point where I frankly wanted to end my life,” he said. “Literally standing on the ‘L’ platform and thinking to myself, ‘I’m gonna jump,’” he said.
He gathered the strength to live and continue trying. A week later, he found the Dax Program.
For the first time in about four or five years, Coronel had his own room. That’s what most of the students wanted — a place to call home so they can fulfill a lifelong dream.
Dax House has a 100 percent success rate. Thirteen students who have lived there have graduated.
There is a second house, a new one on the South Side where four students will be living there.
For more information, visit depaulcharity.org.