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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Campus

Programs on campus aim to help financially insecure students


The Personal Early Educational Performance Support Pantry has been serving students from a closet in Farish Hall since February 2018. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Financially insecure students are a frequently forgotten demographic, but they make up more of the student population than meets the eye. 

A 2018 report from the Hope Lab found that 36 percent of students nationwide were food insecure in the 30 days before the survey, and 36 percent had been housing insecure in the previous year.

The SGA Homeless Student Relief Act and the PEEPS Pantry are two initiatives intended to help UH students who may not have access to nutritionally adequate food or stable housing. The Cougar spoke to students facing these circumstances to understand the importance of these initiatives.

“I was homeless, living in my car and starving for about a month and a half before the fall semester started,” said UH alumna Olivia Cruz.

Cruz was severed from family support after the death of her mother in 2015, when relatives drove her from their home. She applied for full financial aid and moved into Moody Towers after living in her car for a month and a half. Later, she moved out seeking a cheaper cost of living and supported herself by working full time.

Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that having to support herself financially was negatively impacting her studies.

“I’m working full time, but it’s not enough. That leaves me no time to study. My only days off from work are when I have classes,” the student said.

As a foreign transfer student at UH, she felt there was an expectation for international students to have financial support.

“I do (have support), but not financially. (My family and friends) can’t help me like that,” she said.

Support systems

Lack of family support is a common source of financial woes.

“My situation stems from my parents. They offer no financial support of any kind,” said political science senior Samuel Mansfield. “The only support system I have is my friends.” 

After a break up, Mansfield was left with double the rent and without familial support. He had to make sacrifices to cover his expenses. He defines himself as food insecure and outlined his daily meal schedule: no breakfast, a small lunch and as good a dinner as he can manage.

“My friends will swipe me into the dining hall sometimes or buy me lunch knowing that I am struggling,” Mansfield said.

Another foreign transfer student who wishes to remain anonymous said she relies on the PEEPS Pantry to meet her needs.

“The pantry provided access to canned foods, energy bars, items which would not be in my list if I had to run with the limited budget,” the student said.

Retention Specialist of the College of Education Laura Lee said she’d seen a student from the foster care program drop out due to his financial situation.

“He had not realized how expensive it was to live on campus and could not afford to pay the remainder of his balance,” Lee said.

Lee is hopeful about the efforts being made to help students struggling with financial insecurity and the impact of the PEEPS Pantry.

“We are seeing an average of four students per day. From the first day of school until end of January, we had 22 students. As the word spreads about the pantry, I expect the traffic to increase,” Lee said.

Unaware of services

Many students, however, are still unaware of the services and help available to them.

“I have not taken advantage of the resources, nor did I even know that UH provided resources like that,” Mansfield said.

Lee wants to find other ways to support students in need beyond expanding awareness about the food pantry.

“We are working on getting a website for the PEEPS program. Once that is complete, we will have a link for donations. We can use those donations to assist in other ways,” Lee said.

Lee mentioned the UH Alternative Textbook Incentive Program, which she hopes more faculty will utilize in the future.

The students interviewed encouraged others to reach out if they are in need.

“Make sure to talk to people about what you’re going through. There’s no shame and no need to hide. If you’re open about your struggle, you are more likely to get help,” Cruz said.

The PEEPS Pantry hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.

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