Brittany Jones is a student at Laney College in Oakland. She hopes to major in business or social work. She's also homeless.  Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED
Brittany Jones is a student at Laney College in Oakland. She hopes to major in business or social work. She's also homeless.  (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Homeless U: A College Student's Life Without Shelter

Homeless U: A College Student's Life Without Shelter

"Most people don't think that if you're in college that you could possibly be homeless," says social work professor Rashida Crutchfield of California State Long Beach. But her research has uncovered a troubling world where students struggle to survive both in and out of the classroom.

A study conducted by Cal State University revealed nearly one in 10 students in that system is homeless or teetering on the brink of homelessness. A similar study conducted at the community college level found this number to be almost one in three students.

Experts say the homeless undergraduate population is largely invisible: They often look just like the average student. To put a face on the issue, we followed a Laney College student, 24-year-old Brittany Jones, as she navigates the streets, classrooms and "safe spaces" that make up her world.

Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College, makes her way from class to her storage unit in West Oakland. Jones is currently homeless and spends up to three hours a day at her storage unit organizing her belongings, doing homework, or relaxing.
Brittany Jones boards a train on her way to her storage unit in West Oakland. "I know BART like the back of my hand," she says. She spends several hours a day on BART getting around, or just spending time there as a way to rest. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College, spends a lot of time on Bart going back and forth between school, work and her storage unit in West Oakland. Jones is currently homeless and spends up to three hours a day at her storage unit organizing her belongings, doing homework, or relaxing.
Riding the train, Brittany Jones looks for jobs on Craigslist on her phone. She's currently unemployed, but in the past she's worked in overnight security or as a grocery stocker. She wants something similar now. In the meantime, some state grants through the school help her get by. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones pushes a set of portable stairs down the hallway of her storage unit.
Brittany Jones' life is a fine dance of details and logistics: Will she have enough money for dinner tonight? Will she be able to sneak into the seat next to the secret power outlet on BART to charge her phone? Will she find a free set of metal stairs so she can access her upper-level storage locker? (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones goes through her belongings in storage unit to put together clothes for the upcoming weekend.
Brittany Jones' storage locker is one of her few "safe spaces." She spends up to three hours a day here, organizing her things, doing homework and writing in her journal. Her most significant possessions are in here, including a picture of her mother, who passed away when Jones was just 5 years old. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College, is currently homeless and spends up to three hours a day at her storage unit organizing her belongings, doing homework, or relaxing.
Brittany Jones prepares her bag for the next 24 hours. "I take a pair of clothes I'm going to change into, a pair of underclothes," she says. She even carries small containers of laundry detergent. "I'm on the go, so everything is on the go," she says. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College is currently homeless. Jones trades off between staying at friends or relatives houses and sleeping on Bart in the early mornings before school.
Brittany Jones' parents both passed away when she was a child. Since then, she's bounced between foster homes and the houses of friends and relatives. She's close to counselors at school and select friends and family members. Largely, though, she draws on inner strength. "I just try to be my own support system, be my own encouragement," she says. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College, makes her way from class to her storage unit in West Oakland. Jones is currently homeless and spends up to three hours a day at her storage unit organizing her belongings, doing homework, or relaxing.
Since Brittany Jones aged out of the foster care system five years ago, she's largely been homeless. She lost her most recent spot in a group home a year ago when she violated a policy, letting in a guest when she wasn't supposed to. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College is currently homeless. Jones trades off between staying at friends or relatives houses and sleeping on Bart in the early mornings before school.
Since losing her own housing, Brittany Jones relies on others to offer her a place to stay each night. She texts friends during the day, but never asks outright if she can spend the night. She doesn't want to impose. Eventually, one of Jones' friends replies and asks if Jones is coming to meet her -- a coded invitation. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones, a student at Laney College, is currently homeless and often sleeps on the Bart train in the early mornings before school.
Back on BART, Brittany Jones heads to Richmond, where she'll meet up with her friend. She takes a rest in a familiar place on the train. On nights when she isn't staying inside anywhere, she'll stay awake in a 24-hour restaurant or ride San Francisco's all-night buses before she boards the earliest BART train of the day, sleeping until the rush-hour crowd arrives. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones checks her phone on her way to her grandmother’s house in Richmond. Her bright red bag carries all off her clothes she’ll need for the weekend before she goes back to her storage unit for more.
Brittany Jones checks in with her friend as she makes her way over. Her bright red bag is full of clothes, toiletries, homework and more. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Brittany Jones arrives at her grandmother’s house in Richmond to wait until she knows where she’ll be staying for the night.
Brittany Jones meets her friend in Richmond. Tonight she'll sleep on the floor of her friend's bedroom. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

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