A pilot program in Massachusetts aimed at assisting homeless college students is now providing free housing for up to 20 students in the state.

The program partners community colleges with nearby state universities.

One beneficiary of the program is Sumail. He says his parents kicked him out when he was 15. For awhile, he says, he lived at a gas station under a tarp with a Styrofoam door.

“My pillow was a bunch of dead grass, and every … now and then I’d wake up to a little eight-legged friend on my face,” he says.

He showered at the school gym.

A new federal report says Connecticut experienced one of the largest year-to-year percentage increases in homelessness. But state officials and advocates say Hurricane Maria had a major impact on those numbers.

Homeless shelter beds in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Heather Brandon / NEPR

In 2007, Springfield, Massachusetts, set out a plan to end long-term homelessness within 10 years. The following year, officials and advocates from Hamden, Hampshire and Franklin counties came together to craft a similar plan.

When Jessica Freeman found herself with no place to call home, the 25-year-old wasn’t sure where she could go.

“I was not in school. I did seasonal jobs or I was unemployed,” she said, “so I was basically not doing much really with myself.” It took her a little while to figure out what she wanted to do and where she wanted to be in life, she said — and homelessness made that harder.

On a chilly Wednesday night, when overnight temperatures will dip into the 30s, about 40 homeless people gather at a bus garage in Lawrence.

They gather for dinner, to socialize, to get case management or a haircut. Some sleep there. There’s no protection from the cold but there is a bit of protection from the wind.

Dinner is served around 9 p.m. Before then, people lay out blankets where they plan to sleep until the buses come in the morning.

Ralph Francois comes every week.