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Study Says that 1 In 10 Cal State Students Are Homeless

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The engineering and computer sciences building at Cal State Long Beach (Photo by Chris via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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A study initiated by California State University says that an estimated 8 to 12 percent of its 460,000 students are homeless, reports the L.A. Times. The report adds that an estimated 21 to 24 percent are "food insecure."

The study, commissioned by Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White in February 2015, shed some light on the difficulties of getting an accurate report on homelessness among students. For instance, many students who are couch-surfing or living in their cars do not regard of themselves as being homeless. And many students are too ashamed to declare themselves as having unstable living arrangements, according to Rashida Crutchfield, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Cal State Long Beach.

Crutchfield helped lead the first phase of the study that was launched in April of 2015. In this phase, Crutchfield interviewed about 90 students and held four focus groups at different campuses. Her team also sent out online surveys to staff, faculty, and administrators. In total the study's findings are based on 1,039 survey replies from 4,945 students, as well as 100 interviews with faculty and administrators in the Cal State system, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram.

The report identified a few steps that could be taken to combat the issues. It noted that 11 campuses (out of Cal State's 23 campuses) have food pantries and food programs that are directed at students with low-access to food. At Cal State Chico, for instance, the CalFresh program provides financial support to disadvantaged students so they can buy food. It uses the services of 10 to 15 interns to promote CalFresh across campus, and also to help participants figure out the enrollment process. The issue, however, is that some students are still unaware of such programs, and in fact do not seek them out. About 49 percent of student interviewees said that they did not know enough about campus resources.

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"The experience of student hunger has become normalized as the ordinary and expected starving student, thus minimizing the problem of students struggling to eat nutritious meals each day," said researchers.

While the report found that 11 campuses had programs aimed at solving student hunger, it discovered that only one campus had resources that were directed at fixing student displacement.

The results were presented today at a Long Beach conference that was attended by more than 150 administrators, students, and researchers. The goal was to spark discussion on ways to address the ongoing issues of hunger and homelessness on campus.

"We're going to find solutions that we can take to scale," White told the Times.

The Times had broached the topic of student homelessness in January. The publication did a video feature on Louis Tse, a 26-year-old PhD candidate at UCLA who said that the stresses of paying for shelter, tuition, and food had led him to live out of his car. Tse's situation was a revelation for many viewers, as he defied many of the stereotypes of the homeless.

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"It's pretty obvious that homelessness can be a result of rational decision making under extreme duress," said Tse.