Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Nancy Giunta

Committee Members

James Mandiberg

Diane DePanfilis

Rashida Crutchfield

Subject Categories

Higher Education | Social Work


Homelessness, Basic Needs Insecurity, College Students, Higher Education


Purpose: The study aimed to understand the perspectives of students in college who were homeless. The research question guiding this inquiry was: How do young adults describe their experience of being homeless while in college?

Method: Qualitative research using a phenomenological approach guided this descriptive inquiry. Interviews were held with 10 students from three CUNY Community Colleges and the data was analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Resilience theory helped to understand the barriers along with the strengths and adaptive responses of the students.

Results: Students experienced unstable and inadequate sleeping arrangements and food insecurity along with their academic responsibilities. Homelessness impacted their ability to do their classwork. Finding a quiet place to study and internet access off-campus was difficult. Many were also working or looking for work which added to their burden. These pressures impacted their mental health and students were discreet about disclosing their homeless status. Despite these challenges, students viewed homelessness as a temporary, surmountable challenge and had positive expectations for their future. They were determined to persist and viewed college as a pathway out of homelessness. Students identified their needs and made recommendations related to housing and financial assistance, and targeted services for students experiencing homelessness.

Conclusion: Existing campus support programs do not adequately address the complex issues students who are homeless face. The landscape has changed, and more students are experiencing basic needs insecurity and homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These underserved students require a learning environment that enables all students to persist and complete college. This research contributes to a better understanding of homelessness at CUNY campuses and makes recommendations for practice and policy. More research is required to develop specifically tailored and context-appropriate interventions.