He had a wife, a daughter, a stable job in construction and a nice house. However, two years ago Chad Spangler found himself sleeping in his car after losing his home in a divorce.
“It can happen to anybody. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, you can be homeless. You can lose everything just like that,” Spangler said, snapping his fingers.
After evaluating his situation, Spangler decided to enroll at Boise State as a social work major. At 40 years old, he knew his body couldn’t handle construction work forever.
Due to his financial situation and child support obligations, he has remained in his car for the two years he’s been a college student.
Spangler isn’t the only student at Boise State facing homelessness. According to FAFSA forms received by the Boise State Financial Aid Services, 11 homeless students and one student at risk for homelessness enrolled at the university in the 2014-2015 year.
FAFSA defines homelessness as a student who does not have regular, fixed housing that is adequate. “This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go.”
Pursuing academic dreams
According to data compiled from FAFSA forms, approximately 58,000 college students nationwide identified as homeless during the 2013-2014 school year. This is a 25,000 increase—or 43.1 percent—from the 2010-2011 school year.
Universities are not required to keep track of homeless students, therefore FAFSA is the most available data. However, a student must self-identify on their form of their special circumstance. This means the data available may not accurately represent the number of homeless students that exist. A student may not realize they are homeless or they may not want to report their situation.
“The general stereotype is, ‘You’re homeless. You’re either an alcoholic or an addict or you just don’t want to work,’” Spangler said. “Granted there are those (who fit this stereotype), but there are some of us who are just trying to get by.”
Twenty-four-year-old Jake McAbee entered the workforce following his mission for his church. When he lost his job at Wal-Mart, he struggled to pay rent. His fellow roommates became upset. After a confrontation with one roommate, McAbee left his residence to find shelter at the Interfaith Sanctuary in September 2014.
“That’s not the life I want to live,” McAbee said. “I guess I could be like everyone else and just live (at the shelter) the rest of my life and not do anything, but I don’t want that.”
After he couldn’t find work, McAbee decided to apply for Boise State as a communication major this spring. He has found multiple ways to pursue his passions, including being a drummer for a band at the shelter and a radio show host for The University Pulse.
Between attending classes, doing homework and his involvement on campus, McAbee has to make sure he is back at the shelter by 8 p.m. to ensure he has a bed to sleep in.
“If you don’t have a bed, then you have to (call) in before so that you can have a position on the floor because it’s first come, first serve,” McAbee said.
McAbee pays for college strictly with grants from FAFSA. The grants cover tuition and books, but there isn’t enough left over to cover housing.
Throughout this semester, McAbee has had to complete his homework assignments and study hours prior to leaving for the shelter. McAbee cannot bring his laptop into Interfaith due to shelter policy nor does he have access to Internet due to shelter policies. Some nights, he won’t go to the shelter in order to complete his studies.
Spangler feels many don’t understand his circumstance. He works approximately 20 hours a week doing contracted construction work but must pay $500 a month in child support. Taking care of his child a higher priority to him than paying rent.
“How about some compassion?” Spangler said. “It’s not like we’re a disease; we’re human beings.”
He wakes up around 6 a.m. to head to campus. When he gets out of his car, some people passing by will stare, make an off-handed comment or snicker.
“There’s a stigma that goes with (homelessness)—you’re homeless so they see you,” Spangler said pausing for a moment, “as garbage.”
Anna Moreshead, Impact Scholars coordinator for the Office of the Dean of Students, typically receives referrals from the financial aid office, professors and other students about students who are at risk or experiencing homelessness.
“Usually what I find is that homelessness is not the only thing going on for these students,” Moreshead said.
This can include academic struggles as well.
Moreshead highlighted that the retention rate of homeless students is low. Since physiological needs, such as shelter, are harder to meet, homeless students can’t focus on their academics as much as a college student who has shelter.
“It’s just so sad that without intervening—maybe on a more holistic approach—I just fear we’re going to keep losing those students,” Moreshead said.
The value of education
Moreshead believes that as higher education is pushed more, diversity will grow among the student body. This includes students of different financial backgrounds and needs.
“I would rather have a student experiencing homelessness spend time in a college classroom than anywhere else because the social worker in me just latches on to the fact that anybody can be an agent of change,” Moreshead said.
While Spangler has lost many material possessions, his education is invaluable to him and will help him build a better life.
“This is just something I want to do for me because when I get my degree, you can’t take it away from me,” Spangler said. “I’ve earned it. I can take it anywhere I go.”