Campus receives $1.5 million from state for 'Basic Needs' programs

Funds will address food insecurity and housing needs of students

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New state funds are bolstering "basic needs" programs on campus that provide food and housing support to students, including food pantries and produce "pop-ups" where students can get free food. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

An infusion of state funds is enabling the campus to expand its "basic needs" programs, including initiatives to make free food available on campus seven days a week and to help students who need emergency housing assistance.

"Addressing housing security is our top priority," said Brian Arao (Oakes College, '00, molecular, cellular, and developmental biology), associate dean of students and chief of staff to Dean of Students Garrett Naiman. "A plethora of programs address food insecurity, and we will scale those up, but we have had limited infrastructure to make the community rental market more secure, more stable, and more safe for students. We want students to know that if their housing becomes unstable, they can come to us for resources."

The UC system, like universities across the country, is recognizing the prevalence of food insecurity among students. At UCSC, 48 percent of undergraduates and 31 percent of graduate students experience food insecurity, which encompasses both insufficient food and insufficiently nutritious food, according to the latest survey of students. Systemwide, 44 percent of undergraduates and 26 percent of graduate students are food insecure.

"Santa Cruz is above average because of housing precarity," said Tim Galarneau (Rachel Carson College, '05, psychology and community studies), a research and education specialist at UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) and co-chair of the Basic Needs Committee. "Tuition isn't the issue. The cost of attendance is skyrocketing because of the cost of rent."

Meeting basic needs supports student academic success

The Basic Needs Center is co-led by the Dean of Students Office, which provides direct student services, and CASFS and the Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance. CASFS and the Blum Center are rooted in the academic mission and bring research and educational opportunities to the mission of addressing basic needs. In addition to providing direct services to students, the Basic Needs Center oversees education and outreach efforts, and campus leaders advocate systemwide for resources.

"This isn't a one-time problem," said Galarneau, who has spearheaded efforts within the UC system to increase the amount of local, organic food purchased by campus dining programs and to create learning opportunities for students interested in how they can help improve the food system. "This is a permanent change on the educational landscape, and universities and colleges are having to address the basic needs of their students."

Blum Center Director Heather Bullock, a professor of psychology and co-chair of the Basic Needs Committee, said supporting students' housing and food-security needs is crucial—and it's central to UC's core mission of education.

"We know meeting students' basic needs makes a significant difference in terms of degree completion, academic success, and student well-being," she said.

The impact of "basic needs insecurity" on academic performance translates to a .3 drop in GPA for undergraduates; graduate students take 3-6 months longer to complete their degree, according to systemwide data. 

Funding housing, staff positions, and student opportunities

The new state funding includes more than $350,000 that is mandated for the “rapid rehousing” of students who are homeless or at immediate risk of becoming homeless, said Arao. Funds will support a program that provides temporary housing in hotels for students facing a housing-related emergency, and the money will also shore up the campus's emergency housing supply; 12 beds at Family Student Housing were set aside last spring for students in need, said Arao.

"The rapid rehousing money is going to be a game changer," said Arao. “We’ve never had dedicated funds to help students facing a housing crisis. We’ve always had to patch together resources.” 

The $1.5 million in state funding will also build up the corps of Basic Needs staffers on campus. It will double the number of full-time Slug Support case managers who do crisis intervention, fund a Basic Needs Coordinator in the Dean of Students Office, and support a new half-time position in the Financial Aid Office that will help direct students to resources, including scholarships linked to academic achievement.

In addition, a new full-time supervisor will be hired for the Cowell Coffee Shop for the Peoples to oversee food services and an educational food truck that will begin operations after the position is filled; that search gets underway this fall, said Galarneau.

At CASFS, a part-time Basic Needs coordinator will oversee production on the Farm of fruits and vegetables destined for dining halls, pantries, and other campus sites, and a half-time position will support the integration of basic needs curriculum into courses. The funding will relieve the budgets of some existing campus programs that redirected resources to address urgent needs, and it will expand a part-time, CASFS-based co-coordinator position to full-time.   

For students, the funding will provide opportunities to work in the Cowell Coffee Shop, food pantries, pop-up food markets, and the Dean of Students Office. Opportunities for students to engage in research and evaluation with the Blum Center are also being supported.

"This ongoing support from the state builds our collective capacity to address these problems," said Arao, noting that some programs will get augmentations in subsequent years, including the food pantry run by the Student Union Assembly (SUA). "Students are doing amazing work supporting each other. SUA is a great partner."

Education and outreach

In addition to helping current students, the funds will support outreach to admitted students even before they arrive on campus to build awareness and literacy about resources to help them meet their basic needs. A medical emergency can quickly escalate, noted Arao.

"If a student has a medical copay, or suddenly needs to have their wisdom teeth out, they might not have money for food or a roof over their head," he said.

Arao would also like to pilot new programs, including one in financial capability to help students learn to build a budget, plan their spending, and assess appropriate levels of student debt. A food literacy program could focus on nutrition and food preparation, and housing literacy could include information about security deposits and lease agreements. Students have used their spring financial aid checks to put down a security deposit on housing for fall quarter, and then lacked money for meals and books, said Galarneau.

"We've been so focused on crisis response that we haven't been able to talk proactively with students," said Arao. "We want to help them become educated about what's in their sphere of influence in terms of basic needs."

The state support will bolster programs, bring new leadership to campus, and allow staff to focus on program delivery, but Arao, Galarneau, and Bullock agree that the need continues to exceed available resources, and they hope the campus continues to try new and creative strategies. For example, doctoral students now receive a $1,500 grant, through a systemwide program, to help them meet the cost of moving to Santa Cruz, said Galarneau.

On Dec. 3, UC Santa Cruz will join in Giving Tuesday—which has become an international day of charitable giving—to raise money to help students through hardships.