Amayrani Gonzalez is a junior at BYU. She gets good grades, is active on campus and is never caught without a smile. Her friends said she is loved by everyone and her parents couldn’t be more proud of her.
But there’s something not many people know about Gonzalez. For a time, she grew up homeless.
“Both of my parents worked,” Gonzalez said. “It was just so hard to make ends meet. We had to move around a lot. I would go from couch to couch with no real place to call home.”
Gonzalez said it was challenging going to school while being homeless. She didn’t want her peers to know what she was going through.
“A couple of my close friends knew, and if they hadn’t taken me in I would have been on the streets,” Gonzalez said. “They changed everything for me.”
Jenny Craiger is a licensed clinical social worker who works with displaced students. She said homelessness is particularly challenging for students.
“Homelessness impacts stability and routine so that students don’t have consistency,” Craiger said. “School may be the only place that remains a constant in their lives which is why the McKinney Vento Act is vital for students undergoing housing crises.”
The McKinney-Vento Act is federal legislation enacted to help homeless students. It was passed in 1987, and it provides homeless students certain educational safeguards such as immediate enrollment without having to provide documentation of legal residence and transportation.
Dana Long, a behavioral support educator and counselor, said she sees the impact of homelessness daily as a teacher.
“My students are often withdrawn and fearful of making connections because they know their living arrangements are tenuous,” Long said. “Imagine not being able to have friends over or having the bus drop you off in front of a motel or homeless shelter.”
“Homelessness and its Effects on Children,” published by Family Housing Fund in 2012 describes a bleak picture of the impact of homelessness. There are documented health, academic, and emotional or behavioral deficits, which occur during periods of homelessness.
Long-term supportive housing, drug and alcohol treatment programs for mothers, parenting education, nutrition programs, and after-school tutoring and academic support programs may reverse the impact of homelessness, according to the study.
BYU’s Y-Serve has several programs that are helping alleviate the effects of homelessness. Marie Johnson, a member of the Y-Serve Service Council said their programs are doing a great job with this.
“Habitat for Humanity in particular is actually building people homes,” Johnson said. “They believe that everyone should have a safe and affordable place to call home.”
The Food and Care Coalition in Provo also provides help for the homeless. Brent Crane, the director of the Food and Care Coalition said the organization provides many services and links individuals with other family-oriented services in the community.
“We offer meals, showers, laundry, haircuts, coats, sleeping bags, hygiene products and one-one assistance to help get individuals off the street permanently,” Crane said.