Raising her voice: Owens student compiling resource guide for homeless studentsWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
When Owens student Lily Briggs casually joked with a young woman carrying several bags, she was shocked to learn that the fellow student always carries that much with her — because she’s homeless.
“Initially being funny, because I am kind of funny, I asked, ‘How much was your book voucher?’” Briggs said.
While waiting for the bus home, the woman told Briggs she carried all her belongings because she feared they would be stolen if left at the shelter. She was also hungry because to make the bus on time for school, she couldn’t attend her shelter’s breakfast.
“I stayed up all night because this girl broke my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I was crying about her,” Briggs said.
After meeting the woman June 6, Briggs started the Local College and University Action Coalition the following day.
In an email and Facebook post, Briggs proposed that the coalition compile a resource list with information on shelters, free clothing stores, food pantries, drug treatment centers and more to distribute at public venues. Ultimately, Briggs hopes to have the document handed out to college students everywhere at orientation.
After sending an email to nonprofit leaders and local colleges around 6 a.m., Briggs had 19 voicemails by 10 a.m.
“I do not have legitimacy yet, but I am on my way. Tailspins and gust of winds came in, and wow, I’m getting calls from Catholic charities [and] boards of trustees,” Briggs said.
Briggs, who is president of the Owens Community College Gay Straight Alliance, was also inspired by something Krista Kiessling, her social injustices teacher and the director of service learning at Owens, said: “You can’t get a degree if you’re hungry.”
“[A hungry student] can’t focus in English lit, because she’s worried her neighbor can hear her stomach growl,” Briggs said.
According to studies, about 15 percent of college students have not eaten for one to three days, Briggs said.
Sometimes, students have to choose between eating and education. For example, “the moment a student registers as part time, which is six credit hours, he or she loses eligibility for food stamps,” said Kiessling, who also runs the food pantries at Owens.
“I’m really proud of Lily. It takes a lot of guts to follow through,” Kiessling said.
Kiessling noted that while there are already resource lists like United Way of Greater Toledo’s 2-1-1, “The way this one seems different for me, it requires a lot of collaboration from key individuals in the community.”
Briggs also noted that up to 40 percent of homeless college students are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The woman who had to carry her belongings at all times had been kicked out of her home 14 months earlier after coming out to her family.
LGBT students need to know they have the support of their school’s administration, Briggs added.
“If an LGBT person doesn’t know they have backing, they perform differently,” she said. “I want to tell them, ‘This person in the administration is going to do something for you.’”
Eventually, Briggs plans to reach out to the mayor and Toledo City Council in addition to addressing the Owens Board of Trustees.
Briggs, born a male named Cameron James Briggs, is passionate about helping others partially because of her own experiences. She experienced abuse and rape and served six years in prison.
“For six years, I had no voice, and there was no option of having a voice for me and I’m on fire to the point where you’re not gonna not hear me,” she said.
For more information or to get involved, contact Briggs at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.