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“UNT Hobo” highlights student financial challenges
Melissa Wylie/ Senior Staff Writer
Equipped with a flashlight, $5 in change, three pairs of clothes and a cell phone, UNT undeclared sophomore Jerson Rivera simulated life as a homeless student for five days in December.
“I couldn’t go home, no contact with people I knew,” Rivera said. “I wanted to see if I could do it or not.”
Rivera said the idea crossed his mind when he first moved to Denton and calculated the price of attending school. According to collegestats.org, the average in-state tuition at UNT is just under $6,000 compared to about $12,500 for out-of-state students.
To add on the cost of tuition, an average five-day meal plan cost about $2,800 per nine months and housing costs hover near the $5,000 mark per nine months.
“Student costs of living are kind of high so I was trying to see if it was at all possible to be a student here and not have to pay for an apartment or dorm,” Rivera said. “I went out to experiment for myself to see what it would be like.”
Pre-radio, television and film sophomore Chaiya Vong said he and public affairs and community service sophomore Sheldon Finnell decided to turn Rivera’s experiment into a documentary
“What if a student had no options and had to resort to homelessness?” Vong said. “I hope the video reaches out to other schools and students to help understand what these students go through.”
“UNT Hobo” was posted in four, 12-minute segments on YouTube last month under the name of Vong and Finnell’s film company, DM Pictures, Vong said.
Rivera said he used resources around campus to find places to sleep, such as the Willis Library and building rooftops, but the major challenge was finding meals.
“It made me realize that no matter how broke you think you are, you always have some money for a little snack,” Rivera said. “Also, don’t take a safe place to sleep for granted.”
In the first segment of the video, Rivera is shown climbing a maintenance ladder in order to make his bed on the roof of a building.
During the project, he did not see any security or police around campus at night, Rivera said.
Cpl. John DeLong of the UNT Police Department said that officers patrol the campus at all hours, every day.
“He would have most likely been referred to the Dean of Students,” DeLong said. “If the student is homeless, they can contact the Care Team with the Dean of Students, which will provide them with helpful information and resources.”
James Fairchild, assistant director of UNT housing, said that the Dean of Students provides support for students facing financial difficulties, such as referring them to the Career Center and student housing.
The majority of situations involve individuals who have issues with their financial aid and resort to living in their car or on the couches of friends, Fairchild said.
If a student accepts responsibility to pay for housing, they have the option of being placed in a room for the remainder of the semester, Fairchild said.
“We’ve got more flexibility than a traditional apartment complex or leasing company,” Fairchild said. “If they’ve got the means, got a job, and just can’t get ahead then we can hold off on payments.”
Fairchild said that students that are referred often do not accept the offers of assistance, and will abandon the available options without giving any reason.
“At some point, there’s a charge to the services we provide in housing,” Fairchild said. “The cost of a room and a meal plan can be a big number.”