Dax House provides home to DePaul University’s housing-insecure students

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the two Dax houses in Chicago on Aug. 19, 2019. The Dax House program provides short-term and long-term housing to help DePaul University students who face homelessness stay on track to graduate. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

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Dominique Coronel wasn’t a stranger to housing insecurity before he arrived at DePaul University.

By the time he was in high school, he was having trouble finding a secure place to live. He lost the care of his parents when he was young, he said, his mother to addiction and his father to incarceration.

“I’m an orphan of the war on drugs,” said Coronel, a junior studying political science. “And that’s not a rare case. I understand a lot of black and brown youth struggle with the same things and they haven’t had the resources or the luck I’ve had.”

He is not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 56,000 prospective college students who filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2013 indicated that they were homeless.

“I feel a moral obligation to shed light on the issue of homelessness,” he said. “And on its root causes: income inequality and a fundamental lack of resources.”

Coronel said that when he finished high school in suburban Kane County, he knew that to succeed, he had to continue his education. He went to Elgin Community College and then to DePaul.

“I was trying to pursue my education despite my housing insecurities,” said Coronel, 23. “I found myself not being able to prioritize my schoolwork because I was worrying about where I was going to sleep that night or what I was going to eat that day. It seriously impacted my mental health.”

That was when he found Dax House, a program of DePaul USA, a not-for-profit that works on issues of homelessness. Dax House helps DePaul University students who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. It works in partnership with the university, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, which is located next to DePaul’s main campus in Lincoln Park, and other members of the Vincentian family.

According to the Dax handbook, the DePaul Dean of Students office estimates that at least 50 of the university’s undergraduates face housing insecurity each year.

The program was founded to match students in precarious housing situations with people who have volunteered to host the students in their homes, said Emily Edwards, Chicago program director for DePaul USA. 

While the hosting program still exists, Dax House has also been able to set up two houses, one in Ukrainian Village and one near Midway Airport, that can accommodate a total of 10 students. Coronel lives in the Ukrainian Village house with students that hail from Chicago and its environs, Las Vegas and Haiti.

The students can stay in the houses until three months after they graduate. While there, they are required to work 10 hours a week and pay $150 a month rent. Both houses are currently at capacity.

Students who live in guest homes generally do not have to pay, Edwards said.

Right now, there is one student in a host home. Edwards met with both the students and the host to go over expectations on both sides.

In that case, both the student and the host read an article about Dax House and contacted the program.

Another eight to 12 potential hosts have expressed interest, and Edwards expects more applications from students once the school year gets started.

“There are several different ways that people find out about it,” Edwards said. “A lot of people at the university know about us. We work with the dean of students’ office, with the counseling center, we get referrals from different student organizations. Sometimes people just find us online.”

The reasons for housing insecurity can vary: maybe a relative was providing shelter, but can no longer do so, or a student is facing intimate partner violence.

“It can be someone in an unsafe situation or if the rent has increased,” Edwards said. “Time and time again, they just can’t afford it.”

Edwards meets with applicants to figure out what their needs are and whether they can find housing on their own, maybe by looking outside the pricey Lincoln Park neighborhood or pooling resources with a roommate. Sometimes she can connect them with a landlord who is willing to give students a break.

Given the cost of housing in Chicago, that’s often not enough, she said.

Those who enter the program get more than a roof over their heads.

“It’s ongoing support,” Edwards said There’s case management with mental health referrals, textbook support, working towards whatever they define as success.”

The funding to pay for those services as well as for the two houses comes mostly from donations, Edwards said. DePaul USA was able to purchase one of the houses and get a long-term lease for the other. The organization is hoping to add a third house in Chicago and eventually expand the student housing program nationally.

For Coronel, moving into the Dax House marked a turning point.

“For many of us, the transition from not having a place of your own to a place where you live, that’s huge,” he said. “We’ve been in shelters and places like that. This is not like that. This is a home. That’s a beautiful thing to say, and kind of a surreal feeling at first. It’s a great situation. It’s a great place to live.”

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  • homelessness
  • colleges and universities

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