Mt. Hood Community College joins other colleges, nonprofits to combat student homelessness

COURTESY PHOTO: MT. HOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE  - As of now the program has 18 students enrolled, 67% of whom are the first in their family to attend college; 39% are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Mt. Hood Community College, Portland State University, Portland Community College and the nonprofits College Housing Northwest and New Avenues for Youth created a pilot program called Affordable Rents for College Students to address college student homelessness.

This collaborative effort provides subsidized housing, a streamlined application process, and a supportive environment focused on student success.

The program currently has 18 students enrolled, 67% of whom are the first in their family to attend college; 39% are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Nearly half of the students surveyed said they would not have enrolled in classes without receiving housing through the ARCS program. CHNW has subsidized 50% of these students' rents.

Amr Mostafa, a film student at Portland State University, said the program had been essential. "For the first time in my life," he said, "I feel like I have a chance, and I'm at home. I feel safe. This program literally saved my life."

The program recently received $280,000 in state support, thanks to the backing of Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale. This assistance will help the program expand this fall and assist dozens more students access safe housing while they work toward a secure future.

"This is just a start to what I hope will be a much longer effort to create long-term and affordable housing for our students," Gorsek said.

Mt. Hood Community College student Bakr Alkarawi believes the program is a vital investment for students. He plans to become a physician and to enroll in the medical program at Oregon Health & Science University.

"There is nothing more important than the safety, health, and education of our children, which is exactly what ARCS is giving to our students experiencing homelessness," Alkarawi said. "Just because our families can't support us doesn't mean we are less capable or less worthy for the opportunity to create better lives for ourselves."

Amanda Ward, who is attending both Portland Community College and Portland State University, believes the ARCS program is providing hope to countless college students.

"The most important thing is that I'm going to contribute to society in meaningful ways because I finally have access to safe and stable housing," Ward stated. "The solution is very possible."

According to a national survey by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, more than 52% of students across 17 Oregon community colleges reported being "housing insecure" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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