New scholarship supports Texas homeless students

Maria Mendez

The Texas Homeless Education Office at UT will award the new Barbara Wand James Homeless Student Support Scholarship for Texas homeless college students this Friday.

The new scholarship was modeled after a national scholarship for homeless students, but only a few awards were available for the many homeless students in Texas under that award, said James, the former office director. After directing the homeless education office for 24 years, James said she has seen how $1,000 can help homeless students who often do not have the support of parents or family to attend college.

“The only thing that stands between (homeless students) and getting out of poverty and homelessness is money,” James said. “So, I’m just happy we can give a little bit of money to people who are very deserving and help them have a better life and future for themselves.”

Senior program coordinator Patrick Lopez said one in 50 students at Texas public schools are homeless, and a considerable number of these students graduate high school each year. Yet, financial aid does not cover all college costs for needed technology, such as smartphones.

“Just today having a smartphone is essential for most college students, and stuff like that just adds up,” Lopez said. “This scholarship was created to cover costs that tuition and fees won’t cover.”

The office’s scholarship allows Texas high school graduates who faced homelessness sometime in their high school or college career to apply for the scholarship with a homelessness verification letter from high school or college officials.

Staff members of the homeless education office created the $1,000 scholarship through a grassroots effort to honor James and help homeless Texas high school graduates and those currently enrolled in college with additional college costs.

The scholarship will be presented on Friday to two college students at the annual Texas Conference on Ending Homelessness in Dallas, Texas. Since the Homeless Education Office staff contributed most of the scholarship funds, office coordinator Ken Martin said they cannot pay for the travel costs of students to attend.

“All of the donations go to scholarships, so we don’t have that other infrastructure in place to pay for travel, to pay for stationery, to pay for the administrative things that you need to run a scholarship program,” Martin said.

Despite the lack of an endowment and external support, the office first made plans for the scholarship in 2015 when James retired as director. James led the movement for the safety and betterment of homeless students in Texas during her time as director, Lopez said.

“She basically was the face of homeless education in public schools in Texas for that time,” Lopez said. “A lot of things we do now are the result of her work. She’s very dedicated to homeless students. She’s very passionate about it. We just thought it would be a nice gesture to name the scholarship after her.”

James said fighting homelessness is a moral issue that also benefits society, which will not have to pay for future welfare. She said she’s happy to finally have a scholarship program to help Texas students move out of homelessness.

“It was something very near and dear to my heart,” James said. “For years and years we wanted to have a scholarship program.”