Many students will be traveling home to their families this week to enjoy a nice Thanksgiving meal. But there's also a large segment of Milwaukee students that aren't as fortunate.
Michael Rosen taught economics for 29 years at MATC. One day in class, he says they were discussing the book Evicted and a well-performing student in the class raised his hand and revealed that he was homeless. Rosen was shocked, “I had no idea this student was homeless.”
It turns out the student's mother had lost her job and then lost their house because she couldn’t pay the mortgage. The student told the class that he had been couch surfing for two years. Going to school, getting good grades, and just moving from one friend's couch to the other.
A recent study by MATC Student Services found that almost 20% of MATC students experience homelessness. Rosen says that number may seem high to many people at first, but that’s because they have a narrow perception of what homelessness is.
“When people think of homelessness, particularly among students, they think only of people who are out on the street," he explains.
But Rosen says homelessness is a much broader category that includes students who are living in their cars but who are also couch surfing. Students in these situations often are working and have federal assistance from the government, but that just isn't enough to cover all the costs, according to Rosen.
“It’s not as if these students are simply looking for a handout. They are trying to do everything they can to succeed academically and to succeed economically. Frankly, the cards are stacked against them," Rosen says.
In comparison to other students in Milwaukee, Rosen says, homelessness is a problem that acutely affects MATC students because of their socio-economic backgrounds and their age.
“Many of the students are from impoverished backgrounds. They’re coming from families that lack adequate resources to help them. The average age of MATC students is 29 or 30. Many of them are parents, many of them are single mothers," he explains.
Rosen recalls the story of one mother: “A woman was homeless, couldn't find a place, and with her two children ages 9 and 11. She had to move in with her sister. She and her children were sleeping on the couch. Well, a lot of people might not consider that homeless, but it is really homelessness because they don’t have a home."
The problem isn’t getting better. Rosen is now the head of FAST Fund, an economic emergency fund for MATC students. Last year, Rosen says the fund helped out 157 students. They expect to surpass those numbers this year.
There are multiple ways that you can help struggling students. Aside from contributing to the fund directly, you can also volunteer your time, according to Rosen.
" 'All hands' is kind of our motto. Anyone who wants to help us, help MATC students succeed, we would be grateful for whatever help they can offer," says Rosen.