PERSPECTIVE: Homelessness at State Universities Hidden in Plain Sight

The CT Youth Count! is part of a statewide effort to better understand and end youth homelessness by 2020. For the past three years, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness has led this data-gathering and awareness-raising census in which teams of youth and volunteers survey young people in cities and towns, rural areas, within youth-serving organizations, in schools, and at local “hotspots” to collect information on their housing status.

Youth are not identified by name, but the count is an opportunity to gauge how many youth face housing insecurity and homelessness and to share information about available services. The Youth Count is an opportunity for communities to work toward a quicker system of identification when a student is struggling with a housing crisis.

Linkages to services to address acute instances of homelessness were established during the count. The data from the count resides at CCEH to analyze and share with the wider community, state, and federal partners. (The full Youth Count report can be found on the CCEH website, here.)

In the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, unstable housing - or the lack of housing altogether – is a barrier to academic success and stability for many students. Faculty, counselors and deans report that students are living in cars and “couch surfing” at friends’ or relatives’ homes while, at the same time, they are trying to attend college because they know that education is their path to a better future. During Town Hall meetings across the state during the 2016-17 academic year, CSCU President Ojakian was approached by many students who said that they were homeless and needed additional support.

CSCU partnered with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) to address this significant barrier to student success. A forum was held at Manchester Community College on September 15, 2017 to address this issue, along with mental health and other needs faced by CSCU students. Several CSCU institutions attended, including Norwalk Community College and Central Connecticut State University.

As a follow-up to that forum, Vice Presidents and Deans of Students Affairs, along with the system office, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) and others, have been exploring how to get more accurate data concerning homelessness and housing insecurity and how to implement a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) system to provide a more comprehensive, consistent and trackable response to homeless students.

CSCU agreed to have 16 institutions serve as sites for conducting the Youth Count survey from January 24 – 31, 2018 (Charter Oak State College did not participate because it is a fully online institution.). Because the Youth Count focuses on youth age 24 and under, the survey instrument was modified to capture CSCU students over the age of 24. The Youth Count, occurs in conjunction with the HUD-required Point-in-Time (PIT) count, an annual census of sheltered and unsheltered individuals and families experiencing homelessness on one night in January. For more details on the PIT or Youth Count methodology, visit CCEH’s website at

The [December 4] event focused on important steps to take leading to the count and provided an introduction to the Connecticut Coordinated Access Network (CAN) system of services. Each participating college or university identified leads for the effort and formed local steering committees to begin to articulate how the Youth Count would be conducted in each community. Specifically, each CSCU institution was asked to prepare an implementation plan, including how it would recruit volunteers, work with existing groups, schedule the survey times and places and spread the word to the school and region.

While additional research needs to be done, this preliminary research indicates some important findings on CSCU students and their housing instability. The total number of CT college and university students surveyed was 1,978, with CSCU schools representing the majority with 1,623 surveys completed by CSCU students. Of those surveyed, an average of 17.5% of CSCU students reported recent housing instability or homelessness. For those schools surveying less than 30 individuals, it is more difficult to have confidence in the percentages experiencing a housing crisis.

However, 12 of the 16 CSCU schools surveyed over 30 individuals, with some participating CSCU institutions completing over 100 surveys; including 320 surveys at Housatonic Community College, 290 surveys at Manchester Community College, 243 at Naugatuck Valley, 164 at Three Rivers and 117 at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Of those schools reporting more than 30 individuals surveyed, the schools with the largest percentages of students experiencing a housing crisis are as follows: 38% at Gateway Community College with 42 students surveyed; 21% at Middlesex with 71 students surveyed; 26% at Eastern CT State University with 117 students surveyed; 19% at Housatonic with 320 students surveyed; 14% at Manchester Community College with 290 students surveyed; 13% at Three Rivers Community College with 164 surveys completed; 10% at Northwestern CCC with 88 completed surveys;11% at Asnuntuck with 81 surveys completed; 9% at Naugatuck Valley Community College with 243 completed surveys; 13% at Norwalk Community College with 72 surveys completed, and 38 surveys completed at Tunxis Community College with a 13% rate of housing instability and homelessness.

The University of Connecticut system also completed 289 surveys and showed a rate of 10% of students experiencing housing instability or homelessness.

These percentages highlight the high levels of homelessness and housing instability among students on CT campuses. Although more precise data is needed, this data reinforces the need to create coordinated systems to address homelessness and housing instability on CSCU and other campuses across the state.

The establishment of a Single Point-of-Contact (SPOC) system within the CSCU system will provide a visible campus office that can assist in increasing student awareness, enabling earlier identification and intervention, and augmenting the expertise of administration, staff, and faculty to help these students find housing solutions.


This is an excerpt of the introduction to Homelessness and Housing Instability in Connecticut Colleges and Universities, a report prepared by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system and published in July 2018.