Program supports college students facing housing insecurity

Extrat Miankuouta received assistance through the Depaul USA Dax program, which provides housing and support services to unhoused or housing insecure college students. Photo credit Carolina Garibay/WBBM Newsradio

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) --Extrat Miankuouta is originally from the Republic of Congo.

He moved to the United States just under a year ago as an asylum seeker, after living in Cuba and studying to be a doctor.

He said acclimating to the U.S. wasn't easy.

"When I came I was living in a shelter for almost five months, and life there was difficult," he said. "I did not have peace, I could not sleep well, I could not eat well. I was fearing any problem, anytime."

While living in a shelter, Miankuouta said he was also trying his best to learn English and balance life as a student at Truman College.

After transferring to Harold Washington College this summer to study English, he was able to get temporary housing for six months through the United African Organization.

But as the six month period neared its end, Miankuouta said he started to get worried.

"I did not know what to do, where to go," he said. "I was thinking 'What will happen with me?' I'll become homeless again, have to go back to the shelter."

He shared his concerns with a case manager at Harold Washington, who connected him with the Depaul USA Dax program, which provides housing and support services to unhoused or housing insecure college students.

Miankuouta said last week, he was told by Depaul USA that they had a safe place for him to live.

"I jumped from joy," he said. "I was happy. 'Oh my god, I'm saved.' I'm safe now. I was just amazed because they promised it, and they did it."

The home is a former convent to Holy Innocents in West Town, complete with fully furnished rooms, a kitchen, and common areas to hang out. It had been vacant and in nine months, it was made ready for move-in.

Photo credit Carolina Garibay/WBBM Newsradio

Miankuouta is one of six students living at the home. He moved in a week ago and said it feels "amazing" to finally have a place to live.

"I have my own space to be safe, to be free, to sleep well, and to study with comfort so that is why I'm just excited for it," he said.

Depaul USA Executive Director Chuck Levesque said the home is just a small step in addressing college homelessness.

"College homelessness is a huge problem that nobody is talking about," he said. "Up to 68,000 students at any given time in this country don't have' a place to live or are housing insecure."

He said the Dax program will help students in these situations by supporting them with the basic needs to succeed.

"The whole idea is to create a place where someone feels whole and stable, so they can focus on their college studies and move towards graduation, and if they move toward graduation, we believe they won't have another economically driven episode of homelessness," he said.

Photo credit Caroline Garibay/WBBM Newsradio

Levesque said the program is effective.

"83 percent of people who have been in the Dax program nationwide have graduated or remained in college, so we know this model of providing housing and social services, and whatever someone needs to make it, really does work."

He said besides knowing he's helping to "change the trajectory of someone's life," being able to see students like Miankuouta live their best lives is his favorite part of the program."

"[Miankuouta] is absolutely amazing," Levesque added. "And just being able to give him a place to live and knowing he will take it further and make a great success for himself, it's humbling."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Carolina Garibay/WBBM Newsradio