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Building a Ministry That Serves Housing Insecure and Homeless Students: A Reflection by D. Lopez

When you picture a college student, what do you see? An 18–22-year-old living away from home for the first time in a dorm or a shared apartment? That image is out of date. Today, 40% percent of college students are over 25, 58% work, and 25% are parents.  

And while the college-going demographic has changed, so have major macroeconomic factors affecting them and their ability to complete their degrees. The cost of tuition and housing has risen precipitously over the past 25 years. As a result, 62% of students are currently affected by housing insecurity or homelessness, according to the most recent #RealCollege Survey. Unsurprisingly, the impact is even more dire for students who identify as part of the BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ communities. 

In addition to pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Pacific School of Religion, I serve as the Housing Coordinator for the Student Housing Security Initiative affiliated with the Fort Collins Lutheran Campus Ministry (LuMin). The Initiative began in 2019 after we at LuMin noticed a steep uptick in the number of students from Colorado State University (CSU) reaching out for help. In response, our board created a steering committee that included CSU staff, board members, and students to address the needs of housing insecure and homeless students. Our work together resulted in the establishment of the Student Housing Security Initiative with the goals of identifying, recognizing, listening to, and learning from this often-invisible population and surrounding them with peer and community support –all in partnership with CSU and the Fort Collins community. 

While we aren’t able to increase the number of housing units in Fort Collins, for each of the past three years, we’ve been able to provide affordable housing for 16-20 financially challenged students with additional assistance through a grant to subsidize the cost of rent. We also developed a network of mentors, peers, and social workers to help connect students to other assistance. LuMin has also opened its doors to affected students, providing access to washers and dryers, Wi-Fi, showers, and free meals. It has also set aside storage in our chapel for students who’ve recently been displaced. While the Student Security Housing Initiative is affiliated with LuMin, it remains a separate entity. We cannot, and do not, proselytize, ask if students are Christian, or require them to attend services, allowing us to serve more students with better services. I’m proud to say that in the three years since the Student Housing Security Initiative launched, 23 of the students in our program have graduated with degrees.  

It’s truly fulfilling to see how our work creates real change in students’ lives. In a recent interview with our local NPR affiliate, KUNC, one student said gaining access to stable housing “…was an insane weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel like (last semester was) the first semester I really started to thrive because, for once, that obstacle wasn’t present…I didn’t have the anxiety of feeling like nothing I was doing was ever good enough.” 

While the impact of our initiatives and efforts by other non-governmental groups, grassroots organizations, and faith-based cooperatives is very real, small, decentralized groups like ours cannot solve a nationwide issue of this magnitude. The size and scope of college student housing insecurity and homelessness require a national program that can address the many intersecting factors at the root of this issue, including housing availability, cost of living, higher tuition, and lack of funding for higher education.  

I believe that providing affordable housing to college students enables them to earn a degree to help end generational poverty and build generational wealth instead through education. I know this because years ago, this was me. I was a first-generation college student from East Los Angeles, now living in Colorado, an only child of a single-parent mom who worked two and three jobs. My grandparents, who never graduated high school, stepped up and ensured I survived and thrived. This is why I’m a Doctor of Ministry student at PSR, to further this mission. Even now, when I sit with our students at our weekly dinners and look across the table, I remember that young me.

D. Lopez is an incoming Doctor of Ministry student at the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkley, California, and the Housing Coordinator for the Student Housing Security Initiative Housing affiliated with the Fort Collins Lutheran Campus Ministry. D. was recently awarded the Michael M. Mendiola Prize in Ethics for their work with LuMin. They are also an alum of Colorado State University with a master’s in public policy and administration and a master’s certificate in women and gender studies. The work Lopez does to ensure housing and education for housing-insecure and homeless students has become the ministry they will carry forward through their Doctor of Ministry program. Lopez lives in Firestone, Colorado, with their wife of 25 years, Tina, and their one-year-old mini-Aussie shepherd, Dashie. 

Learn more about the Student Housing Security Initiative 

A roof overhead can make or break a college degree for young Coloradans – KUNC NPR 

Encore: What it’s like to be a homeless college student – KUNC NPR 

Formerly homeless college student in Colorado finally has a place to call his own – NPR National 

Hear from Students who have been part in the LuMin Student Housing Security Initiative – YouTube 

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