Many under-used resources for homeless students at Utah Tech

Utah Tech University has noticed a big increase in the amount of homeless students. Some students are living in their car due to different circumstances. Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

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Many people would be surprised to know that Utah Tech University officials have seen an increase in homeless students the last few years.

Ali Threet, assistant vice president and dean of students, said there isn’t an efficient way for the university to keep track of every student experiencing homelessness on-campus. However, the university can keep track of how many homeless students come forward and ask for assistance whether it’s basic needs, food and/or a place to live.

There are a lot of resources on campus many students in need don’t utilize. One being the Student Resource Center, previously known as the Women’s Resource Center.

The SRC has four main focus points:

  1. Women and families
  2. Non-traditional students
  3. First generation students
  4. Basic needs

Threet said it is hard for the SRC to know about all of the homeless students if they not do come forward, so the best way for these students to get help is to come forward and ask for it. Students shouldn’t feel embarrassed or scared to ask for help as there is a reason why these free specific resources exist on campus.

The main way the university helps homeless students, or students in need, is by providing the struggling student fund. Threet said this private money is funded through donations from faculty, staff and community members.

Student Body President Devon Rice, a senior marketing major from Bountiful, said community events are one of the main ways the struggling students fund receives donations. Rice said the money raised at the Fire and Ice Gala is where thousands of dollars are donated to the struggling student fund.

Currently $39,273 of the struggling student fund has been used since the fall 2022 semester.

The struggling student fund has been around for awhile, but Threet said it wasn’t being regularly funded and utilized like it is currently. She said this is how she can tell more students than ever before are struggling with basic needs, especially because of high inflation rates.

The struggling student fund can be used for a few different things:

  • To pay for a students meal plan for a semester
  • To pay for a students rent in the case that they may be evicted soon
  • To help any student who may be struggling to buy themselves the basic necessities for life

Threet said: “If they [students] are living in campus housing, and they are kicked out for that week or two while they have to do cleaning, and then they are able to move back in at the beginning of the semester,” Threet said. “So maybe there’s been times where we cover the cost of a hotel room so students are not just [put] out for those two weeks.”

Threet said if students are living in their cars, they will call on-campus student housing to find a place for them to live. If students aren’t able to pay the deposit of the room, the struggling student fund can cover it if necessary.

Some homeless students have been found living in their cars in on-campus parking. Ron Bridge, interim chief of police, said it is not legal for students to sleep in their cars in school lots. However, if Utah Tech police officers find someone living in their car, they will check in with them and point them to the necessary resources.

In the past, Threet said the previous dean of students was only awarding $500 or $600 at a time. Threet recently put a limit on the the money where students can receive up to $2,000. A lot of students are needing $2,000 at a time because this can pay their rent for a few months.

Until now, the struggling student fund was allowed as a one time use to a student; however, Threet is in the process of changing this rule because she doesn’t want it to affect the future of the students.

“I understand that oftentimes a students may need help more than one time,” Threet said. “Let’s say they are a freshman and then they come upon financial difficulties again their senior year; I would hate to have to say we can’t help you because we helped you your freshman year.”

Threet is also in the process of creating a committee and application, so the university can keep track students who need the most help. Students will be able to fill out the application, and the committee will then decide which students need extra financial help. This way, they can provide resources for each student in a more organized manner. However, she said she doesn’t expect the committee to be finalized until the middle of February at the latest.

Another way Threet is helping students in need is through food scholarships. Students will meet with Dru Bottoms, director of student resource center, and she will decide how much food will be given to that student through the food pantry and how much money will be put on that students meal plan. But when students receive food scholarships, they also have to “give back” to the university through volunteering at the food pantry.

“I would love to make this a community where we take care of our own,” Threet said. “When we receive help we also give help.”

Threet said they have given a few food scholarships to students already even though there is currently not an official give back program in place yet. She said she hopes to have a give back program in full effect by the end of the spring 2023 semester.

Threet encourages any homeless students to come forward and speak with her so any students who are struggling can get the help they need. To make an appointment with Threet, call Debbie Millet, executive assistant for student affairs and dean of students, at 435-652-7514 or make an appointment through the Navigate app.