Many University Of California Students Are Still Going Hungry

UCI students in 2017 tour the new, 2,318-square-foot FRESH Basic Needs Hub, stocked with dried and canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated items and emergency toiletries. (Photo courtesy of Steve Zylius/UCI)

The University of California, one of the premiere public university systems in the nation and one that boasts 65 Nobel prizes, enrolls thousands of students who don't have enough to eat.

Let's say that one more time: More than one in five UC students say their financial situation has often forced them to skip meals or reduce the size of their meals over the past year, according to a survey of tens of thousand of students.

Altogether, 22 percent of UC students said they skip meals or reduce meal size "somewhat often," "often" or "very often."

"It's definitely high," said Devon Graves, who's now a UCLA graduate student and the UC Student Regent.

"I hear stories about how students have to make those tough decisions of whether to eat or not to eat because of not having enough money for food," he said.

Student advocates say that should worry the public, although they acknowledge that administrators throughout the system have taken steps to address the problem.

WHERE TO FIND HELP

Before the issue came to statewide attention in 2015, students were hard pressed to find help with food or housing. Campuses operated food pantries in tucked away, unused spaces, often converted closets.

UC President Janet Napolitano's office changed that by directing campuses to set aside funding to better stock the pantries, make them more visible, remove the embarrassment and stigma of seeking the services, and help students who qualify sign up for Cal Fresh, formerly known as the food stamps program.

Each UC campus has created a "basic needs" hub:

UC Riverside operates a food pantry as part of a new basic needs effort to help students with food and housing. (Courtesy of UC Riverside)

FOOD INSECURITY IS RELATED TO HOUSING INSECURITY

Advocates point out that there's a strong link between housing and food.

"I remember having enough money to pay for rent and making my rent payments but not always having enough money to pay for food," said Graves.

The UC Office of the President did not have anyone available to talk about how the survey results related to current efforts to reduce hunger on campus. But a UC spokeswoman said Napolitano has been working on the issue, including a 2016 initiative to add 14,000 new, affordable beds for students by 2020. Campuses have opened 5,000 so far.

And last year UC Regents approved $27 million to help students find affordable housing.

But with all that help, advocates say UC needs to have stronger long-term plans to help students meet their basic needs.

"We're just beginning to invest in [students' basic needs]," said UC Santa Cruz researcher Tim Galarneau, who's co-chairing UC's food access and basic needs efforts.

"This isn't a quick turnaround where you flip on the light switch and it's solved," he said. "This is going to take significant time once we measure it and begin to intervene."


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