We are now officially in the full swing of holiday season. With Thanksgiving behind us and the fall semester coming to an end, many students are preparing to leave campus to spend time with their families at home, partake in some of their favorite dishes and meals, and get some well-deserved rest. However, unfortunately, for some college students this will not be the case.
Food and housing insecurity is something that can affect students at every institution. The pervasive reality of food and housing insecurity goes well beyond students having to eat ramen noodles or “couch surf” to save money. Research has shown that many college students are in positions where they are unable to meet their daily basic needs. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), approximately 56,000 college students are homeless. Additionally, a Wisconsin HOPE Lab study that surveyed 33,000 students at 70 community colleges across the United States, revealed that 56% of community college students can be classified as food insecure and almost half either have an unstable living arrangement (35%) or are completely homeless (14%). While this study focuses solely on community college students, the issue is just as prevalent at four-year institutions. A 2016 study that surveyed approximately 4,000 students from 26 four-year institutions and eight community colleges found that 20% of the students at the four-year institutions experience very low food security and 7% are homeless.
Institutions, practitioners, and researchers have focused on homelessness and hunger for some time now. However, there appears to be an increase in momentum in bringing awareness of this critical issue to the forefront of national attention. In fact, just recently, the topic of food insecurity made national headlines when students at both Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta staged a hunger strike. Students demonstrated to highlight the prevailing hunger problem at their schools and protest against institutional policies that prevented students from donating their unused dining hall meals to students in need. As a result of these students’ efforts, both institutions have created plans and policies that will help to provide up to 14,000 meals annually to students in need.
Additionally, there is collective action taking place to help address this problem head on. In October, over 400 people from colleges and universities, community-based organizations, governments, and national non-profits gathered to discuss how to tackle student housing and food insecurity at the second annual #RealCollege convening. #RealCollege: A National Convening on College Food & Housing Insecurity, put on by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), held captivating panels and deep-dive workshops focused on effective state and institutional policies as well as innovative and practical solutions. Participants left the meeting with the latest research, insights, and resources, geared up to further build and scale their student support programs.
There are a number of things student affairs professionals can do to better address food and housing insecurity at institutions.