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1 In 10 Cal State Students Is Homeless, Study Finds

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

When many of us think of going off to college, we think of U-Hauls filled with plastic bins, parents helping kids settle into their dorm rooms. A new preliminary study from California State University suggests a much different reality for some of the 460,000 students. About 20 percent don't have enough food to eat, and around 1 in 10 lack stable housing. They stay on friends' couches, in shelters or in cars.

George Parker, a student at Cal State, has had firsthand experience dealing with those issues, both growing up and later in college. During the academic year with financial aid, he did have on-campus housing. But when school let out, home was a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

GEORGE PARKER: I had to budget for the summer because I knew it was very hard to find employment (laughter). And I knew that I wouldn't necessarily have a place to stay. So I'd - I have to budget my butt off. And then a lot of the times when I was sleeping in my car, what got me through was just thinking that if I finish my education, I'll figure it out from there and it'll all get better. It'll all be OK.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things that this study shows is that kids in your situation did not have regular sources of food. Well, how did you do for food?

PARKER: Oh, wow (laughter) food was (laughter) - during the school year, I worked at one of the restaurants on campus. So that mitigated a lot of that issue. But when I stopped working there, it would be hit and miss. Like, sometimes I would have to ask, like, my peers, even roommates, if I could borrow money or eat with them (laughter). That - that's still something I struggle with actually to this day. I mean, my first semester of my graduate program, I didn't have consistent food.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that Cal State had difficulty gathering statistics about the extent of homelessness among their students because people are reluctant to say that they are homeless. Did you feel that way?

PARKER: Oh, absolutely.

WERTHEIMER: Why?

PARKER: Absolutely. Well, I mean, there's this sense of that everybody's supposed to come from a loving family that can provide the basic needs. And when you can't get the basic needs, you feel othered. You feel less than. And, like, you don't necessarily want to promote that, hey, you know, I haven't eaten yet today and it's, like, 4:30 in the afternoon and I'm starving. Can someone feed me or can someone help me eat, you know?

I can admit, like, I probably can think of a handful of instances where I should have asked for help and I chose not to because I was embarrassed and I was ashamed.

WERTHEIMER: Are you thinking that you're going to get out of college and onto a better life? Has it all been worth it?

PARKER: I would say so, indeed. There were people on campus that supported me and helped me through. I was truly grateful for that. So I've decided to kind of follow in their footsteps and go into the field of academics but as an administrator.

WERTHEIMER: And see if you can give them the kind of help you got from some friendly strangers?

PARKER: Yeah, or hopefully better, you know? I've - they've always encouraged me to do more than they've ever done for me, so that's the plan.

WERTHEIMER: George Parker is a student at Cal State, Fullerton. Thank you very much for talking to us.

PARKER: Thank you as well. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.