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Nearly 1 in 4 Cal State students are going hungry, new report says

A year-long study released by the California State University on Friday finds that 24 percent of the system’s 460,000 students could be going hungry. The report also found that as many as 12 percent of students suffer “housing displacement” such as homelessness.

“Systems need to be implemented in every college and university in the country to find these students and ensure that they reach their full potential without worrying about where their next meal is coming from or where they will be sleeping,” CSU Chancellor Tim White said in a written statement.

Researchers said the findings are troubling, especially in a university system so large. They believe the problem has become serious over the years because of rising university tuition and cost of living, and changing demographics at the 23-campus system.

“We don’t have the same college population that we did in the 1950s. Now we have more students who are experiencing social problems related to poverty and inequity,” said CSU Long Beach Social Work Professor Rashida Crutchfield, a co-author of the report.

The impact of food and housing insecurity on college students is wide-ranging, researchers said.

“Students can’t learn if they don’t have their basic needs met,” CSU Humboldt professor of social work Jen Maguire said.

And students going through these challenges get less out of the college experience.

“If you’re worried about food or if you’re worried about housing you’re not engaging in those extra clubs or leadership opportunities or athletics because you’re having to think about an extra job or finding money to get your next meal,” Maguire said.

To bring about change, she said, the university community and the general public needs to understand that these problems are significantly more far reaching than the hardships of skipping meals during finals or the couch surfing done by college students for years.

The food and housing struggles revealed in the report, she agreed, are more serious than the struggles that people see as a normal part of the college experience.

The report also revealed that the possibility of finding help varied widely among the system’s 23 campuses.

The report detailed food, housing, and financial help resources at each CSU campus. The CSU campuses in Chico, Northridge, Pomona, and San Bernardino offered the most help, including short-term loans, free food pantries, and emergency lodging. The CSU campuses in Channel Islands, Fullerton, Los Angeles, Monterey Bay, and Sonoma offered the least help to students going through food and housing insecurity.

The report recommends CSU administrators adopt policies for all campuses in the system to help reduce student hunger and homelessness, devote more funds to address the problems, and study the issue further.

The CSU researchers who conducted the study said more in-depth study of the issue at each of the system’s 23 campuses is needed because the data is based on in-person and online surveys of fewer than 1,500 CSU students and staff. Chancellor White said the university would fund a more in-depth study of student homelessness and hunger to find out how serious the problem is at each of the CSU campuses.

Students are at the center of many CSU campus efforts to combat student hunger and homelessness and some students hope it stays that way.

“Our program is primarily student driven, and I think that’s really important to keep in mind that students are at heart of this issue and ideally should be leading the movement to really examine food insecurity and solutions,” said CSU Humboldt senior Ellinoa Blake.

She’s worked at the campus Oh Snap! Food Pantry for about a year and gets a great deal of satisfaction from helping students who are struggling but a food pantry, she said, is just a band aid on the problem.