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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

New Illinois Bill Tries To Streamline Support Services For Homeless College Students

Spencer Tritt

There is a network of state-run support for Illinois K-12 students who experience homelessness and housing instability. School districts and liaisons work together to offer them support mandated by state and federal legislation. That support often disappearsonce they graduate.

Representative Maurice West is sponsoring a bill that aims to bridge those services to higher-ed institutions by appointing an employee to serve as a homeless student liaison. The plan has already passed the Illinois Senate and now awaits vote in the House.

“This helps our universities to get the data that they need,' he said, "to see if this is an issue at their institution.” 

If signed into law, colleges and universities would designate one employee to connect homeless students and students in care with financial aid and housing resources, and train staff to identify students going through housing instability.

The person also must file an annual report with the state outlining how many homeless students they serve, how many received assistance and the outcome for the student as a result.

Representative West, a Rockford Democrat, says the bill mandates higher-ed institutions create a permanent homeless liaison position if they find more than 2% of students experience homelessness or are students in care.

“There's currently 53,000 students experiencing homelessness in K-12, throughout our state,” he said. “We just don't factor in ‘Hey, they're going to go into college one day soon. And why aren't we keeping track of them when they go to college?’”

Advocates also say the 53,000-student number could be even higher because of COVID-19. During the pandemic, without many in-person classes, school districts have had trouble identifying homeless students.

West also says the proposal has seen unanimous bipartisan support and he’s very confident that it will be approved in the House and go to the governor’s desk.