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Homeless SMU Student Struggles to Support Family, Continue Education

Southern Methodist University awards grants to students in need

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Students across North Texas are trying to finish up a spring semester that has been full of unexpected challenges due to COVID-19.

One Southern Methodist University student has found herself homeless and caring for her out-of-work family on her own.

Joie Lew, 18, said she wonders if her college days will continue next year.

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Will she return to her beloved SMU campus with her friends?

“Just with all of the curveballs that have been thrown just in the past two months have been total insanity,” she said.

The SMU freshman left her dorm for spring break only to find out SMU would complete the semester online.

She would not be able to return to her room on campus.

“I just felt very lonely,” she said. “I saw my peers going to beach houses and mountain homes and I’m like, 'I’m living in a motel.'”

Lew’s parents are divorced, but now living together after both lost work due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Her mother is a hair stylist and her father is an Uber driver.

Lew moved into a hotel room with her parents and said she was paying all expenses using her college savings.

Joie Lew, wearing a pink face mask, stands outside her hotel room in Irving.

“It’s really hard because that’s the money that I had saved up to pay for this next school year,” she said. “I love my parents and I want to do anything that I can to help them.”

Lew joined an increasing number of SMU students seeking financial help from the private university’s student emergency fund.

“We’ve had a lot of requests for assistance with rent because they can’t work for one reason or another and we try to help as much as we can,” said Wes Waggoner, associate vice president for enrollment management at SMU.

SMU said the school’s program was awarding $53,491 to students in need of help.

The committee has received 90 applications and has reviewed 84 students’ cases.

“They tend to be small grants, up to $500 or something, to help with rent or help with food,” Waggoner said.

SMU has also awarded about $2.3 million in funds received through the federal CARES Act to about 1,650 eligible undergraduate and graduate students, according to an SMU spokesperson.

Those students received grants between $1,000 and $1,500.

Lew said she was grateful to have received both grants from SMU.

Young Invincibles is a national advocacy group for young adults and said college students have been the most affected due to COVID-19, especially low-income and first-generation college students.

“They already had a lot of barriers to academic success before they got there and COVID-19 has sort of exasperated those barriers,” said Aurora Harris with Young Invincibles. “Now we’re seeing a lot of campus displacement. They’re having to do virtual and long-distance learning, many of them for the first time.”

Harris said 75% of college students have lost their campus jobs, others have lost housing options and millions have been left out of stimulus money.

“We really want to see more from lawmakers this next session on how do we expand access to emergency aid potentially into 2021,” she said.

Lew said she’s one of the lucky students with a campus job able to continue working from home.

She said she was concerned her parents would be forced to split up if her money runs out.

Lew said she would keep fighting to keep her family together and her dreams of a higher education alive.

“I’m really scared about not being able to go back to school,” she said.

Friends have started a GoFundMe account to help Lew with living and school costs.

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