Homelessness on the UWT campus

An anonymous student describes their experience alongside their family as they navigated being homeless for the first time in their life for two years.

Amid President Joe Biden’s visit to Washington on green energy and healthcare, an unforeseen removal of two homeless camps sparked controversy. 

In anticipation of the visit, as reported by the Seattle Times, the city closed streets and limited access to sidewalks and 15 people were removed from the downtown encampments by Mayor Bruce Harrell. 

The number of homeless people has reached over 10,000 in Tacoma alone. According to data from the homeless point in time (POT) by Pierce County, homelessness has risen from 6,664 in 2017 to 10,858 in 2020. 

For students and their families who are experiencing this, it can greatly impact their future in negative ways as well as their academic success. According to a 2020 survey by the Hope Center, over one in 10 survey respondents at four-year colleges moved three or more times in the 12 months preceding the survey.

A student, who wished to remain anonymous, was available to comment on their own homelessness situation while attending college classes. They were homeless with their family for two years.

“Whenever I was able to,” the student says, “I would try to spend the rest of the day in the library, using the school computers and access to the internet and reading books. All to make sure I didn’t fall behind in class.” 

“It’s heartbreaking,” they said,  “Not knowing when your next meal will be, or if you’ll even make it next year,

The source described feeling loss of hope and uncertainty for their future. At the time the family lost their home, the student who had just graduated high school in 2019 was questioning whether they would be able to attend UWT.

For two years they lived in their SUV, shelters and any place that would take them in. The student described visiting the UWT pantry to not only feed themselves but their family as well. 

“The Pantry became my favorite place on campus. They had food and small products my family needed. It felt great to be in class, with shelter and warmth, though it was temporary.” 

“It definitely felt weird being in class surrounded by my classmates, not one of them knowing I had spent the morning at a shelter with my family,” described the student, when asked how they felt attending lectures.

The student and their family were able to receive aid from shelters in Pierce Country and currently reside in an apartment where they are getting ready to celebrate the student’s graduation in 2023. 

Students in need can visit the Pantry where they can do in-person shopping at no extra cost and are able to pick up 20 items per week such as hygiene products, baby products and nutritious foods. 

The Pantry is located in Dougan 104, operating Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.