By Gail Wilson
Homelessness and those that are at risk is a problem in our nation and at Anoka Ramsey Community College.
“When people hear the word homeless, they picture someone in three layers , curled up on the street with a big shopping cart and 18 cats,” said Thomas Berg, an outreach worker at the Hope 4 Youthorganization that helps homeless young men and women. According to Berg, stigmas are huge.
“The trick is you might be sitting right next to someone in class that is homeless and you would never know it,” said Berg.
Berg is a leader at Hope 4 Youth, a homeless drop in center in Anoka. The center is for youth up to the age of 24.
“We provide showers, we provide laundry service, we provide meals, a food shelf, and a clothing closet. We also assist with job resources, interview prep and any type of housing across the continuum that we can get youth off the street and into a shelter,” said Berg, who also was the ARCC Student Government President last year.
Berg states that students that are homeless can be living in all kinds of situations. Some live in cars. Some may be couch hopping with friends. Some may be staying with relatives.
“So if a youth is having that challenge, we can come in and assess them for food stamps, we can assess them for cash assistance or even if they have their own place but they might be in danger of losing it, we can actually find money either through the county or other ways to help them. Prevention is a big part,” said Berg.
Berg further explained that there tends to be a barrier for homeless individuals and at risk students that they may feel they are not good enough to be in college. This is because “they struggled with high school or they were bullied or the were kicked out because of LGBT concerns. We see this a lot,” said Berg.
Berg said once the youth receive the help they need to finish high school, they are just happy with the diploma.
“But we want to take them one step further because we know what the industries are looking for now. They are looking for college degrees,” Berg said.
Hope 4 Youth also works with students and their financial aid. Many students use FAFSA, a system that bases aid off parents income. But for many homeless and at risk youth, they have no relationship with their parents.
“There may be zero relationship with those parents anymore because of abuse, because of trauma, because of drugs and alcohol. So they wouldn’t even know the first thing about getting ahold of them for that information. But there is a new tool in the FAFSA. There is a homeless and at risk clause,” said Berg.
Berg suggests students who qualify as homeless or at risk work directly with Hope 4 Youth, because there are numerous institutional barriers, including pushback from Financial Aid.
“They look at it and traditionally challenge it. It’s a liability risk for the organization,” said Berg.
The Financial Aid office claims that completing the FAFSA and providing verification can be a complex process and that every student’s situation is unique.
“It can very easily feel like we are making it difficult on purpose or that there are road blocks in place. We have to document that students situation, their income, their family size. All of the things so that we can continue to recieve title four federal funding and so we can get that student the exact amount of financial aid that they are eligible for,” said Amanda Temple, Financial Aid Officer.
Temple stated that students should always just come and ask if they don’t know how to overcoming obstacles.
“Don’t give up. Don’t fill out the FAFSA and hit the road block, because we have seen so many different situations at this point, we will be able to help you figure it out,” said Temple.
Berg stated that with help from Hope 4 Youth, homeless individuals or at risk students generally get past the barriers and roadblocks when attempting to receive financial aid. Those students, who often receive thousands of dollars in financial aid, aren’t accustomed to having that much money.
“This is still a huge leap out of their comfort zone or out of the life they have known. So guidance is huge. It’s amazing how quickly that money disappears,” said Berg.
Berg says homeless and at risk students tend to put the money they receive to good use, because they work so hard to survive.
“They are clawing and fighting for every inch they can get and they don’t quit. Once they are locked on a target they don’t give up until that diploma is in there hands,” said Berg,also a student in the AA Psychology program here at ARCC.
Berg says students that are struggling can call the main office number of 612-354-3345. This will get them connected with the resources and help that is available to them. Youth can also drop in at the center at 2665 4th Ave. N.Suite 40 in Anoka, Minnesota.
The goal of Hope 4 Youth is to help youth to make connections and talk about where they want to go and what to do when difficult situations arise.
“We can help you get to your best life possible. Call us. We can come out with supplies. Don’t be afraid of failure. I don’t care where you have been my biggest goal is getting you where you need to go and I can help you get there,” said Berg.