The typical picture of homelessness can be found all over the streets of Orlando. On your way home from work you might see two or three homeless people. On your way back to your car after a Friday night downtown, you might pass five or six.
But homelessness can take many forms, even in the students you pass on campus or sit next to in class.
In the fall 2015 semester, 14 UCF students were approved by the university to classify as homeless students. To date, eight have been approved this semester.
According to the Florida state statute, a student can identify as homeless when that student “lack[s] a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence or whose primary nighttime residence is a public or private shelter designed to provide temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or a public or private pace not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.”
This includes students living in a car or couch surfing, according to the Homeless Student Committee Internal Procedure.
UCF’s Homeless Student Committee, made up of Student Care Services and Student Account Services, screens students who complete a waiver to be classified as homeless to determine if they meet the qualifications.
Once the waiver is approved, a variety of services are available to students, including reimbursement for the semester in which they experience homelessness, said Angela Newland, care manager at Student Care Services and chair of the Homeless Student Committee.
“Currently, the numbers of students disclosing homelessness are low for the amount of students we have at the university, but we have seen an increase over the years,” Newland said. “I believe a lot of people experiencing homelessness may not classify themselves as such, have not disclosed this status or sought support.”
Other services for homeless or financially distressed students include part-time job listings, resource maps, financial assistance and mental health resources.
Students with approved waivers also meet with a care manager at Student Care Services to discuss additional needs and challenges. Care managers refer those students to on- and off-campus resources, such as Knights Pantry, Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Health Services.
Since spring 2015, 10 students have applied for the waiver but were not approved because they didn’t meet the qualifications or went on to find housing.
The criteria currently in place to determine homelessness only applies to undergraduate students. Graduate students are unable to receive assistance, according to an overview of the Homeless Student Committee statistics.
Although UCF sees a relatively low number of students who identify as homeless, there are still groups committed to serving the homeless both on campus and around Orlando.
Hunger and Homelessness, a branch of Volunteer UCF, works with organizations throughout Central Florida to alleviate homelessness.
UCF junior and director of the group Arianne Abreu said in addition to serving the community, Hunger and Homelessness attempts to educate the study body on the issue.
“I cannot emphasize this enough,” Abreu said. “Homelessness is not the stereotypical drunkard on the street with the ripped clothing looking for money. It can be someone just like you and me. A student in our group project or even one of our own class friends.”
On a larger scale outside of UCF, the majority the community’s homeless are families and children, according to the Rethink Homelessness Campaign, an initiative to help the community rethink who the homeless are.
Evan Smith, project manager at the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, said 80 percent of the homeless in Orlando are families and children, ranging in age from elementary school to high school.
“Living in tents in forests or using cars as temporary homes is the new reality for so many Central Florida families,” Smith said.
Smith also said that the issue is significant in areas surrounding UCF.
“East Orange County has a large concentration of residents living in the woods, without access to the most basic necessities,” he said.
Sometimes the only way for the homeless to obtain those basic necessities is through the community’s volunteer work. At UCF, Hunger and Homelessness serves meals at the Coalition for the Homeless downtown. Those at the Rethink Homelessness Campaign coordinate businesses, nonprofits and organizations to serve the homeless, alongside countless groups that do the same.
“From soup kitchens to resume writing, students have unique abilities that can gainfully be put to use,” Smith said. “I think this is an amazing chance for any young person to gain perspective that will reshape their view on the world.”
Rosie Reitze is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @rosie_ucf or email her at RosieR@centralfloridafuture.com.