Second Chance: FIU program offers free tuition, housing to homeless students

(WSVN) - The high price of a college education is a challenge these days, especially for students who don’t even have a place to call home, but at Florida International University, homeless students are getting a chance at an education. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek reports.

Watching students walk to class on a sunny day at Florida International University, you’d never think that some might not have a home.

Sonja Montas-Hunter, FIU: “They are sleeping in the library, that they are sleeping in parking lots. You ask them where they’re living, ‘Oh, I’m living with a friend.'”

They are kids living in crisis. Like Nate Webster, who was homeless for two years after his dad went to prison.

Nate Webster, was homeless: “A lot of nights, I stayed crying at night just not knowing what could come the next day.”

Enrique Sepulveda understands that feeling. His parents kicked him out when he was 18. To survive, he hid out in a foreclosed home.

Enrique Sepulveda, was homeless: “I was in the abandoned home for about a year and a half, almost two years, had nowhere to go, and I decided to move into Camillus House.”

Enrique finished high school.

Like Nate, he qualified for a unique FIU program called Fostering Panther Pride, which provides free tuition and housing to qualifying homeless students.

Enrique Sepulveda: “It’s a lot of weight taken off my shoulders.”

The program also helps kids coming out of foster care.

Sonja Montas-Hunter: “We act as a surrogate parent. We help them through that transition when they age out, or when they’re transitioning to college.”

Limarie Losada is a freshman from Puerto Rico.

After Hurricane Maria, her family didn’t have water or electricity. She came to Miami to stay with friends and was accepted into the program.

Limarie Losada, fostering panther pride: “It just provided so much relief and a sense of calmness. It just soothed all my worries away.”

And she doesn’t have to worry about food or a place to stay. Meals and a cozy dorm room are provided year-round.

Sonja Montas-Hunter: “That’s one less stress that they have to think about. They don’t have to go into the shelters.”

Students also have access to a pantry for snacks and personal hygiene items, and each student is assigned a mentor.

Mentor: “How has your week been?”

Nate Webster: “It’s been good.”

Enrique Sepulveda: “Just interacting with like-minded people really helps alleviate some of that pressure.”

Since Fostering Panther Pride started in 2013, the number of students in the program has more than doubled.

Right now, 185 students are enrolled. About 50 of them were homeless when they were accepted. The rest came from foster care.

Sonja Montas-Hunter: “You never know when people’s circumstances will change, and that can lead to homelessness. It can be from one semester to the next. You just don’t know.”

And it doesn’t stop at graduation. For people like Nate, Enrique and Limarie, the program will also help them go to grad school or find a job. It’s a journey from being homeless to finding their dreams of success.

Florida International University
Fostering Panther Pride
sas.fiu.edu/fpp/

Copyright 2020 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.