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UNM poster initiative brings attention to problem of homeless students

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Imagine a student at the University of New Mexico struggling to maintain a high grade-point average while holding down a job, hanging out in a dining hall hoping to snag a free leftover meal, and pulling an all-nighter in the library because there is no home to go to.

This hypothetical student is not far removed from reality. Raising awareness of the plight of homeless students has formally been taken up as a cause by the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, with the installation Thursday of two posters as part of the “Two Sides to Every Story” campaign.

The ASUNM has partnered with Heading Home and the city’s Department of Family and Community Services to expand the campaign to the campus, where two posters were installed in the Student Union Building. The posters wrap around the corners of walls, where passersby read the text on the left side to get one perspective, but not until they see the adjoining text around the corner do they get the full picture.

It’s not clear how many homeless students attend UNM because they are generally too embarrassed to talk about their status or tell their peers. Consequently, “we don’t know how many students at UNM are homeless, but I know that it’s happening,” said Nasha Torrez, UNM’s dean of students. “Many faculty and students have come to me to talk about resources” available on the campus.

Based on records from FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, there are no less than 58,000 homeless students at college campuses around the country.

The campaign, begun last September with posters at Albuquerque community centers, is intended to “challenge stereotypes about the homeless,” said Doug Chaplin, director of the Department of Family and Community Services, which administers funds to many programs that serve the homeless.

Thousands of people who walk through the Student Union building weekly will be able to see the posters “and we hope it starts the conversation about homelessness,” said ASUNM president Kyle Biederwolf. “We believe this is a message that the 20,000-plus students at UNM can get behind.”

The campaign is being funded with $5,000 from Heading Home, a housing-first collaboration of public, private and nonprofit organizations dedicated to “making homelessness rare, short-lived and non-recurring,” said Chief Executive Officer Dennis Plummer. Since 2011, Heading Home has gotten more than 2,500 individuals and family members into permanent and stable housing, he said.

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