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Friday, April 19, 2019

Campus

SGA bill continues to help homeless students this semester


The Student Government Association is working to address food insecurity on campus this semester by holding a food drive and working to open an on-campus food pantry. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

On Nov. 1, 2018, the Student Government Association passed the first major piece of legislation aiming to help homeless and food insecure students on campus. This semester, SGA plans to continue their efforts by holding a food drive and continuing work to set up an on-campus food pantry.

The food drive will be collecting donations from January 28 to February 1. Proceeds will be donated to the Personal Early Educational Performance Support Pantry located in Farish Hall. Students with parking citations who donate five nonperishable food items will receive a credit applied toward their fine.

The creation of an on-campus food pantry, passed by the Senate as part of the Student Hunger Act on Nov. 14, 2018, is still in development. The convenience store by Taco Cabana will house the food pantry, but it is undecided who will operate it, said SGA president Cameron Barrett.

“Will it happen before I leave office? I don’t know. If the food pantry happens, it will probably be because of the 55th Administration. As far as if I’m going to be there when it opens as president, I don’t know,” Barrett said.

The food pantry is another step toward providing more on-campus resources for homeless students.

The Homeless Student Relief Act signified the first step towards more on-campus resources for students in need. The act focuses primarily on cutting food costs and aiming to help homeless students afford the cost of living on campus.

“I didn’t want to run on homelessness,” Barrett said. “Who knew what I could’ve gotten done? There was no way I was going to tell a homeless student, ‘yeah, by the end of my term you’ll have free housing and a free meal plan.’ Who knew what I really could’ve gotten done?”

The act will reduce meal plan costs for 50 homeless students by 70 percent and exempt homeless students living on campus from the meal plan requirement that comes with some dorms at no extra cost to other students. The act will also make homeless students a priority for the Cougar Experience Scholarship.

The scholarship awards freshman students $4,000 towards on-campus living, $2,000 per semester. UH also offers an emergency loan of $500 to any student that meet the criteria listed and do not have any past-due loans with the University.

“I had more grand plans, but ultimately it’s a matter of what administrators are willing to do,” Barrett said.

Some ideas were not financially feasible. In the beginning stages of the project, Barrett said he hoped for a suite or two of free housing for homeless students or for part of the new dorm to be dedicated to homeless students, which would cost the University around $10,00 per person.

Barrett also suggested homeless students could live together with those living in single dorms. Auxiliary Services was concerned about utility cost and about the fairness to students paying for housing, Barrett said.

“There’s a natural concern with aid programs for fraud and for cost, which is fair in both cases,” Barrett said.

It is difficult to count exactly how many students at UH are homeless. The numbers used in the SGA legislation are based off of individuals that have aged out of the foster care system and are certified homeless. Outside of those reported students, the University does not know how many of its students are homeless.

“Based on the Cal State study and our University’s characteristics, there are probably around 200 to 400 homeless students enrolled in courses at any given time.”

Currently, on-campus resources for homeless students are limited. There are no programs that offer free housing to students or free meal plans. If students are in need, the resources offered mainly direct them to outside organizations.

“I know that we have a social worker at the Dean of Students office, Hope Pacheco, and a lot of what she does is connect struggling students with resources,” Barrett said. “As far as I know, the resources she connected them with were external.”

Combatting On-Campus Food Insecurity

Some UH faculty members have taken matters into their own hands. College of Education Retention Specialist Laura Lee started a food pantry in room 128 of Farish Hall in February of 2018. The pantry can fit no more than two people at a time and is stacked with nonperishable food items and sanitary products students can get for free.

“I don’t know why there wasn’t a food pantry,” Lee said. “When I first started looking on the internet, because I like to read a lot of articles, I kept seeing food insecurity among college students. Some of the bigger colleges in California, Michigan, some of the really well known ones, all have food pantries. So was I was like, ‘where we’re situated, why don’t we have a food pantry?”

The only time Lee says she heard people talking about food insecurity before her food pantry was when professors mentioned they found out homeless students were sleeping in their classrooms overnight.

In spring 2019, there will be a food drive to help Lee’s pantry. SGA and Auxiliary Service have plans to turn the space next to the Taco Cabana on campus into a food pantry, as well.

The Urban Experience Program is another on-campus resource intended to help not just homeless students, but at-risk students overall. The program offers help applying for scholarships and for identifying the reason behind a student’s homelessness and connecting them with the appropriate resources, be it on or off campus.

“We had a student that was referred to our office because she was in need of housing or funds to cover housing,” UEP Program Coordinator Tajuanda Montreuil said. “She had come out to her parents and told them about her sexuality and they disagreed, so they cut her off. We worked with the LGBTQ Resource Center and they were able to find money to cover her housing.”

The program also keeps snacks and drinks stocked in their office if students want to stop by and not use a meal swipe or money on lunch. Beyond that, UEP helps students apply to government-based programs that can help students in need.

“For those with food insecurity, we have them apply for SNAP, so that’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and we have someone in our office who will walk them through that process,” Montreuil said. “We also have meal cards. Chartwells donates a certain amount of meal cards each semester.”

Barrett says he hopes the next administration will continue this important work and make strides to better assist homeless students. For right now, as his administration is coming to an end, there is not much more he can do as president.

“I’ve heard of there being plans for them to do more in regards to homeless students, but it has yet to be revealed to me,” Barrett said.

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