ASPSU addresses college homelessness

Josiah Raglian volunteers at the ASPSU office every day, coming to campus from the homeless shelter or the doorway where he sleeps.

Josiah Raglian volunteers at the ASPSU office every day, coming to campus from the homeless shelter or the doorway where he sleeps.

Raglian discovered the resources of ASPSU when a voter registration campaigner recruited him to help. Raglian, who goes by “Si,” has been involved with ASPSU for about two weeks. He  is also the kind of youth that ASPSU senator Josh Hyrkas is trying to reach with a new initiative that will help homeless people transition into higher education.

Hyrkas, an upperclassman at Portland State, is no stranger to the streets himself, having been homeless in Portland for about nine years before moving in with his family and then renting an apartment from his father. He remembers losing his apartment two weeks before finals at the community college he was attending in Washington.

“I was thinking about survival, not school,” he said.

After transferring from Mount Hood Community College to PSU, Hykras took a statistics class and realized that a count of the youth in college who are homeless or have experienced homelessness is missing. He decided to broaden his class project.

In an e-mail to the Barbara Duffield, the policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, he wrote, “I realized that without numbers, it would be almost impossible to convince university administrators that services need to exist to help retain homeless college students.”

Hyrkas received a positive response from Duffield, who told him she hadn’t heard of any similar projects. She asked him if he had the ability to survey the entire student body, perhaps electronically, and suggested that his definition of homelessness be broad enough to include sleeping in a car or temporarily living in someone else’s house or apartment.

“You could develop a questionnaire that is about ‘housing stability,'” she wrote.

According to Duffield, most students will not want to use the word “homeless” to describe their situation.

Hyrkas incorporated Duffield’s ideas into his plan to survey students at PSU.

“People aren’t going to have to click ‘yes’ to ‘have you been homeless?'” he said.

Hyrkas is working with ASPSU Senator Donovan Powell to create a documentary of his efforts. Powell’s experience includes collaborating with Kurt Sindelar, the founder and head producer of Portland Independent Films. Powell’s father is an avid photographer, and together they shop for equipment.

Powell will use his own equipment for the documentary. With his camera bag, tripod, utility kit and more, he can seem intimidating to subjects who aren’t used to being filmed, he said, so his plan is to wait in the background while Kyrkas talks to subjects and asks them whether it’s okay to film.

The documentary will follow Hyrkas’ progress and the narratives of students that are part of the homeless demographic he hopes to reach.

“It will be a diary system,” Powell said. With the help of Sindelar, he created a release form that the subjects of the video will sign.

Hyrkas announced the idea for his project at ASPSU’s first  senate meeting this year, and today 10 senators are interested in helping him. At the ASPSU meeting last week, Hyrkas and Powell spoke to the Senate about the project’s status.

“We have found a statistics student who wants to take the lead with numbers,” Hyrkas said at the meeting. “We need to prove that this is a demographic that exists at PSU,” he said.

While Hyrkas compiles statistical information, he and the rest of ASPSU are launching a campus-wide “supply drive” that will provide basic school supplies to students on campus who are without resources. Hyrkas is also proud of his contribution to setting up an ASPSU food pantry.

At least one potential student is benefiting from the time he spends in the ASPSU office: when Raglian walked in last week, ASPSU equal rights advocate Jessica Mease asked him if he’d obtained his social security card. The next step will be getting an ID, and when Raglian lines up the rest of his basic resources, he’ll be ready to get his GED. Ultimately, he plans on attending PSU.

“I saw [Raglian] being really productive with the vote campaign, and I wanted him to take more away from it than just volunteer hours,” Mease said. “My natural instinct is to help him.”

Raglian said his life has changed since he began spending time on PSU’s campus. He used to hang out with drug addicts and alcoholics at Pioneer Courthouse Square, but these days he’s in the ASPSU office most of the time.

“Now…I’m starting to do things with my life,” he said. “I want to be around college students.”  ?