Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis

I recently presented the workshop “Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis”  at the California College Personnel Association’s Annual Institute. There were many participants (standing room only), which reflects the increased interest in these topics among student affairs professionals. Many of us are looking for models, methods, and best practices to serve our most vulnerable students.

Background

The research supports that college students face major financial challenges. Food insecurity is common among college students, and food insecure students are often housing insecure. Food and housing insecurity negatively affects students’ education. Students who are struggling to meet basic needs experience more stress, frequently work more which results in greater part-time enrollment, experience lower GPAs, and often extend their expected date of graduation.

According to the UC Global Food Initiative survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

College and University Food Bank Alliance report states drew on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 community and 4-year colleges across 12 states – the broadest sample to date – the authors found that 22 percent of respondents have the very lowest levels of food insecurity, and 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.

Models/Ideas

An increasing number of campuses have the following types of services:

  • CalFresh Outreach coordinators who work with local Department Social Services to enroll students by prequalifying students on campus
  • Emergency grants for students with unexpected expenses which could negatively impact their academics, such as medical bills and car repairs
  • Emergency housing, which could include on campus options and/or hotel vouchers
  • Meal vouchers/cards, veggie bucks, or other dollars that can be used to get food on campus
  • Dining app that tells students when leftover food is available at campus events
  • Food pantry, as well as pop-up food pantries and food “shelves,” often includes toilettries
  • EBT card readers on campus to allow students to use CalFresh benefits
  • Food Bank distribution on campus

Best Practices

Every institution has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the challenges of implementing these programs is determining which best meet the needs of the students in your institution AND align with the resources available. Here are some best practices that can be applied to any institution:

  • Share resources – A great place to start is by joining the College and University Food Bank Alliance (http://www.cufba.org)
  • Document need – Whether you have existing services or nothing in place, you can being by surveying students, conducing focus groups, and gathering institutional data, to determine what students need and want
  • Partner with local agencies – every campus has different town-gown relationships, but nature partners include faith-based organizations, the Food Bank, local non-profits, and Department of Social Services
  • Identify engaged faculty – faculty are often interested in grants, research, and service-learning. Find ways to incorporate these into your basic needs programs and services. Reach out to various departments which may have overlapping interests, such as nutrition and sociology
  • Create a working group – stakeholders may include student leaders, Financial Aid, Dean of Students, Campus Health and Well-Being, Athletics, Campus Dining, and Housing

Resources

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