Three years ago, Amanda Owens had to move out of her apartment. The single mom had bad credit, nowhere she could afford to go and the beauty school she was attending was shuttering.
She estimates that she lived in 35 to 40 different places during that time in her life, often couch surfing.
“I just felt like I was always going to be working these minimum-wage jobs and going from house to house and job to job, never really settling or completing what my goals were,” she said. “I was too focused on where I was going to live for the next month or so.”
That’s how she ended up getting into transitional housing through Second Step Housing, a Vancouver-based nonprofit that provided her with a stable place to live while she pursued what she really wanted to do: go to college.
Now 27, Owens expects to graduate from Clark College in June and works part time as a program coordinator at the school’s workforce education services office. There, she talks with a lot of students who are struggling to meet their basic needs while getting an education.
“It’s really hard to be able go to school if you don’t know where you’re going to be living or where you’re going to be getting your food or how you’re going to get to class,” Owens said.
She began calling Denise Stone, director of programs and asset management at Second Step, about applications she got from students who indicated that they were homeless. Stone realized that both the nonprofit and the school would benefit from a partnership, which officially was inked a few weeks ago. Students at Clark College who qualify can be directly referred to Second Step Housing and possibly get into stable housing to help them stay in school.
“Our goal is really not to lose any students,” said Armetta Burney, Clark’s director of workforce education services.
The community college has a lot of nontraditional students, she said. They’re using Clark College — whether to get a GED, a technical certificate, a two-year degree or to transfer to a four-year college — to get on better financial footing.
Becoming a direct referral agency for Second Step allows the college to identify students in need of housing. The students fill out the application for Second Step and return it to the school. Owens just gave out the application to her first student referral. Second Step depends on referrals from partner agencies; generally, people are directed to Second Step through the Council for the Homeless.
When Owens meets with students seeking workforce education services, they might reveal that they’re homeless, or staying at a friend’s house where it’s hard to get schoolwork done. Students can drop out if it gets to be too much.
“I think that when I tell people that I’ve been there, they tend to open up and the flood works come,” Owens said. “I think that’s really cool. I like the fact that I’m able to do this and give back everything that was given to me.”
Owens progressed from transitional housing to an apartment subsidized by Second Step. She’s being weaned off support and, once she graduates and has a full-time job, would ideally be able to support herself and her 3-year-old daughter without any assistance. Owens hopes to advance in her job and continue working at Clark College.
“This particular program speaks to a core foundation of what we try to work on here, which is not just providing homeless people with a key and then letting them go and hoping that they know what to do to maintain their housing stability,” Stone said. It’s more about creating long-term self-sufficiency among clients, so they can maintain their own housing, “and that’s where education comes in,” she said.
“We hate it when someone moves from a program to another program because it just feels like you’re not making any movement. What is it that is missing? What are we not being able to provide? What is it that you’re not willing to maybe take advantage of?” said Debby Dover, executive director of Second Step.