Depaul USA's Dax program: Helping students feel at home

Maria Toscano
January 26, 2017

It can happen suddenly. An argument with a relative. Eviction. Financial aid falls through. A delayed visa. Escape from abuse. Housing too far from school. Quickly, each of these can begin a downward spiral toward housing insecurity for college students - preventing them from reaching their goal of a higher education.

Depaul USA, a unit of Depaul International and a part of the Vincentian Family in Chicago, wanted to develop a way to assist students who face homelessness. Named after the town in France where St. Vincent de Paul attended school and actually lived with a host family, the Dax program collaborates with DePaul University to connect these students with hosts or host institutions that can offer them more than just shelter, but a place to call home.

"Three years ago, we started this program to focus on homeless or housing insecure DePaul students. We were motivated by a HUD study that showed 60,000 college students across the country are homeless and U.S. college completion rates are falling behind those of other industrialized countries," says Charles Levesque, Depaul USA president and executive director. "HUD posits a factor in the falling rate is students not being able to afford housing along with their college education. There is a lot of perceived shame around this issue and students don't want to admit their situations. Which is why we have to talk about it."

'Sharing my story'

Tony Romero, an accounting major, faced homelesness in fall 2015. Through the Dax program he was offered an apartment, received support and guidance from faculty, and made professional connections to further his career and education. Romero is now a DePaul graduate and a manager at an H&R Block office.

"Seeing my story out there brings me mixed emotions," he says. "These situations aren't something you're ever proud of. But it feels good to think someone else may come to the Dax program because I shared my story."

Opening your heart and home

Sister Judy Warmbold, D.C., is the Dax program coordinator and works to find alternative ways to grow the program. Currently, Dax uses a model of host institutions, such as nearby parish rectories and senior care centers. The program is currently recruiting host families among DePaul faculty and staff to open their hearts and homes to a student facing homelessness. 

"Home host families must have an extra bedroom and be really open to the idea that this is an independent person that will come and go," Levesque says. "If they buy into Vincentian values they'll be perfect. 'What must be done?' These students are homeless; they need a home."

Phillip Stalley, an associate professor in the political science department, has opened up his family home as the Dax program's newest home host.

"I wasn't aware there were DePaul students in these situations," Stalley says. "My wife saw a flyer in the Ray Meyer fitness center advertising the program to students, to reach out for help if they need it. We were just shocked by that and wanted to help. We filled out the application and hope to have someone with us very soon."

Their decision to volunteer for the program, Stalley notes, is thanks to the DePaul community. 

"Part of our reason for participating in the Dax program is the influence of the university community," he says. "I'm surrounded by colleagues and students who make serving the less advantaged a central part of their lives. There is no doubt their example has shaped my own views about my responsibility to my community."

Dax program's future growth

While the Dax program will continue to look to DePaul faculty and staff to open their homes and work with outside host institutions, Levesque says it's important to grow the program toward a combination of the host family model, on-campus dorm rooms and a provision that allows flexible affordable housing.

Depaul USA works with the university to reserve one on-campus dorm room for the use of a student in need for the upcoming school year. In addition, the program is in the process of securing a two-flat to provide affordable housing for up to 10 students by the fall of 2018.

"Ideally we want the two-flat and the home host model to become our prime examples of how insitutions can respond to these issues," Levesque says. "We are thankful for everything the university has done for our office space, access to people, the dorm room and the dean of student's office assistance."

For more on DePaul USA's Dax program, visit us.depaulcharity.org.

To apply as a Dax Home Host, contact program coordinator Sister Judy Warmbold, D.C., at (312) 802-9703 or [email protected].