Study addresses student homelessness

By Olivia Levada Lenoir

Once stigmatized as those who live on the street and beg for food, California State Universities are putting a face to, providing assistance for and aiming to empower homeless and food insecure students.

Interviews and focus groups with CSU staff, faculty and administrators estimated that 8.7 percent of CSU students are homeless and 21 percent are food insecure.

In addition, a survey of Cal State Long Beach students found that 12 percent of its students are homeless and 24 percent are food insecure.

Commissioned by Chancellor Timothy White in February 2015, Rashida Crutchfield, associate professor from the School of Social Work at Cal State Long Beach, gathered these percentages and investigated how CSU campuses address issues of student food insecurity and homelessness.

“A lot of campuses did not know that this issue was so prevalent and could be so prevalent,” said Crutchfield. “Campuses are developing coalitions and developing programs to help students. Each campus has its own campus community and culture and surrounding area with its own available resources. Each campus really has to decide what works best for them within their own context.”

The study identified that fiveCSU campuses including Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Long Beach and San Bernardino provide programs that target these students’ needs as a university mission. Strategies used on these campuses include food vouchers, food pantries, links to community housing and CalFresh enrollment ” a food bank that provides access to meals on a long-term basis.

According to Crutchfield’s report, “students who experienced food and/or housing instability reported high levels of stress and the need for single points of contact.”

Crutchfield advocates that food insecurity and homelessness should be carefully defined.

“I think that people talk about food insecurity as in hunger,” said Crutchfield. “People like to say students are going hungry. There is some truth in that, but it is not necessarily just about hunger. It is also about the anxiety that someone is not sure where their next meal is coming from. The thing about housing instability is a lot of people have stereotypes about what homelessness is. When I was researching this topic a lot of people would say things like, ‘Well, we do not have homelessness because I do not see anyone who looks homeless.’ Anybody can be homeless and we have to be careful about stigmatizing people or making assumptions about what someone must be dealing with or looking like to need support.”

Crutchfield affirms that the study is introductory. In order to gather clearer numbers, surveys will be sent out to all 23 CSU campuses this fall.

Sara Gamez, associate director from Student Support & Equity Programs, worked as a graduate research assistant for Crutchfield’s study and has worked to pull together a team of Cal Poly Pomona members to support the initiative and identify on-campus needs.

The committee first met in May 2016 and is composed of faculty, staff and students from: Division of Student Affairs, Division of Academic Affairs, Foundation Services, Associated Students, Inc., Cal Poly Pomona Food Justice Club, College of Agriculture, University Housing Services, Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Veterans Research Center and Center for Community Engagement.

“We want to make sure our students are successful,” said Gamez. “We understand obviously that we cannot fully solve problems such as poverty and food insecurity overnight, so we want to be mindful in our approach as we move forward. Being mindful of resources but also being mindful of students and how we best do that for them.”

Once identified, UHS is available to work with campus partners to assist displaced students.

“The student would meet with someone from housing to explore options (on- and off-campus) and to create an action plan moving forward,” said Reyes Luna, director of residence life at UHS. “In the past, we have worked with the student and the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to access all available aid for the student to help assist with paying for housing.”

In case of emergencies, UHS is available to provide housing for a couple of days when beds are available.

“An issue that we are currently facing is our high demand for housing and not having enough spaces to hold rooms or beds offline for potential displaced students,” said Luna.

In February 2016, CPP announced that new residence halls would be constructed and completed by fall 2019.

Students facing food insecurity may be referred to UHS where a student can meet with Luna to address resources for help.

“The student would not leave the meeting hungry. Housing has created a short-term meal voucher that can be used to eat at the dining commons,” said Luna. “In most cases, the student is in need of a meal that day and can identify where they can option meals/food in the future. Those in need of a more long-term food source would be referred to an off-campus agency in the community that can assist and support those with long-term need.”

The city of Pomona also provides services for students who find themselves displaced and/or food insecure.

“Call or walk into the Pomona Homeless Outreach office,” said Jan Cicco, Pomona homeless services coordinator, in an email correspondence. “There, they will be screened and assessed for eligibility to a wide array of programs. Dialing 211 from a phone with an LA County area code will connect them with someone who can provide them with information on the closest programs offering the services they are looking for.”

Student homelessness

Eviana Vergara / The Poly Post

Student homelessness

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