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Independent students find help to succeed

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Audrey was evicted from her apartment after her roommates skipped out, leaving the place in shambles. The landlord demanded restitution for the damage they caused. Three months of Audrey’s saved rent money was spent on repairs. Appeals for help made to the landlord were rejected. A sheriff deputy allowed Audrey to take what she could carry and the rest of her belongings were locked behind her as she was escorted off the premises. Audrey’s life crashed around her.

Now alone and penniless, the Western Carolina University (WCU) junior sits in the school’s cafeteria calling shelters, hoping to find a place to sleep. Tears roll down her cheeks as she realizes she is

homeless. She is afraid. “Independent college students live in the shadows,” says HOMEBASE Director Jim Dean.

Many of the students who turn to HOMEBASE have lived for years in the foster care system. Others come from homes where there is little or no family support. Either way, they are living on their own and struggle to succeed in college. Nationwide, only four percent of independent students graduate college by age 26.

Most drop out for reasons that are preventable. In 2016, Baptist Children’s Homes and WCU determined to do something to help. Through a unique partnership, the two institutions created HOMEBASE. The innovative ministry launched and began providing a safe place for students to receive the support they need to be successful. At HOMEBASE, located in the former Baptist Student Union building adjacent to campus, students have access to free food, hygiene products and laundry service, a computer lab with printing capabilities, social activities, and emergency housing.

Meanwhile, Audrey’s heartache is now turning to desperation. She has no money and no place to live. The clock is ticking and the cafeteria closes soon. Spotting a group of prospective students who were touring the Cullowhee campus, she approaches the student guide. She blurts out, “I need a place to sleep. Is there somewhere on campus that can help me?” Walking out the cafeteria door, he shouts back, “Check out HOMEBASE.” Urgently grasping for straws, she walks across campus and steps into HOMEBASE with her small bag of belongings. She tells the volunteer at the front desk, “I need a bed.”

Hearing the girl, Dean comes from his office without looking up, “No problem. Do you need a full or queen size? Or will a blow up mattress be better?” Audrey looks perplexed and answers, “No, I need a place to sleep tonight.” Dean has seen the look of hopelessness before. He smiles, “You are in the right place. We can help.” Audrey’s tears of sadness turn to tears of relief.

The next morning, she remembers waking up and thinking, “I’m not alone.” More students need temporary housing. HOMEBASE offers a place when a student is suddenly evicted from an apartment or when the weather gets so cold that living in a friend’s car is no longer an option. Homelessness or the threat of becoming homeless is real for many students.

Every year, more and more students have more needs. Students who do not have someone to help them will stumble and suffer. Last year, the number of students who came to HOMEBASE doubled. This year, the numbers are ahead of last year’s. Audrey’s overnight accommodations has turned into a place for the summer. She is now a part the HOMEBASE community. The kitchen is where she gives back. Her homemade spaghetti sauce draws students and Dean to the table for food and fellowship—the group feels at home. The table is where family gathers to share a meal, play games, laugh, and talk about their days—the highs and the lows.

During the summer, needs can become even more intense for independent students. Support services available during a semester are reduced or are not available. The students who do not go home can find at HOMEBASE the help they need. Audrey has felt on the sidelines before. “Friends who have families to take care of them are fortunate,” she says. “Those of us who do not have these safety nets worry about real things— like what we will eat and where we will sleep. What some people feel is common, to me is a luxury. It is something reserved for someone else.”

HOMEBASE Assistant Sydney Young walks with each student who comes through the doors for help. “Audrey felt crushed—like being under a rock. We helped take the pressure away. Jim will help with any needs regarding her standing with the University. She has a place to sleep, do laundry, and hang out. She can work and save. money this summer, rent an apartment when school starts in the fall, and she can start over. We are standing with her so she can take that first step toward hope, and then we will take another step with her, and another.”

HOMEBASE doesn’t offer a quick fix and then walk away. For a student to be successful, there must be commitment. There must be time to help transition independent students through difficulties they face. It is about moving a student forward, beyond the shadows. The people at HOMEBASE are now family to Audrey. “I will never forget these days. Not because these were some of the worst days of my life, but because I was down and now I’m standing—a little crippled—but I’m able to lift my head because I feel valued and not forgotten.” HOMEBASE is not only a safe place, it is a positive place. It is a place that helps students reach their goals and succeed. It’s that simple.

Visit to learn more about HOMEBASE.

Written by Jim Edminson, Editor of Charity & Children

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