© 2024 NPR Illinois
The Capital's Community & News Service
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pritzker Signs Law To Help Homeless Higher Education Students

Chicago Coalition For The Homeless

When he was a homeless freshman at the University of Illinois Springfield, Chicagoan Prince Washington said he had to look for someone who could help find a place to stay.

He eventually did in the form of the vice chancellor for student affairs, the late Clarice Ford, who helped him get a job on a campus cleaning crew so he would have housing during the summer break.

Washington, a scholarship winner who is now 22, testified before the lawmakers, telling them that “When I graduated from high school, I didn't have any support. I don't really have any family I could fall back on.”

He said he told administrators, “Hey, I kind of don't have anywhere to go. And I don't have a lot of money. And, you know, what can I do just to have a roof over my head when you guys expect us to be gone for these periods.”

Starting next August, under a law passed unanimously in the General Assembly and signed last week by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, all public and private post-secondary institutions – two and four-year colleges and vocational, technical and business schools -- will have to designate someone as a liaison to assist homeless students.

High school districts in Illinois have had liaisons to help homeless kids under a 1987 federal law — the McKinney-Vento Act — with issues like enrollment, access to resources and transportation. There was no such no requirement to help college students in Illinois. The new law changes that situation.

State Senator Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a lawmaker from Chicago suburb Western Springs, said she was eager to take on the legislation because she remembers hosting homeless student friends of her then-college age children.

“There are so many kids that do want to continue even when they are homeless, they want to continue to pursue post-secondary education and careers,’’ she said. “And it's very hard to do that when you don't have a stable place to live.”

Under the new law, higher education institutions must hire a specific employee designated as a liaison if they have at least a 2 percent homeless student enrollment. Those with an estimated a lower homeless population can designate an existing employee to connect students to services such as financial aid and counseling.

The law also requires a count of homeless students. Alyssa Phillips, an attorney at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Glowiak Hilton said many institutions underestimate their homeless students. One national survey of students suggested that last year 14% identified as homeless and over 40% said they experienced housing insecurity.

“Because colleges can be really big, and their departments can be really siloed, it can be extremely difficult for students to actually find the right person who can help connect them with resources that they need to … not only reach college, but also be able to continue on,” Phillips said.

About 10 states have similar laws.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.