Food and Housing Security Initiative Coordinates Basic Necessities

Food pantry items
Mary Haskett
Mary Haskett

In February 2018, the NC State Food and Housing Security Initiative shared a report that showed that 14% of NC State students experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days and that 9.6% experienced homelessness in the past year.

Psychology Professor Mary Haskett and Student Support Services Academic Coach Sarah Wright, along with other students, faculty and staff, are working to end food and housing insecurity at NC State through the Food and Housing Security Initiative, which aims to facilitate access to sufficient, nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food and safe, affordable housing accessible to the university for all NC State students.

On April 19, 2018, the initiative will hold a Spring Community Conversation from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. in Hunt Library’s Duke Energy Hall. The discussion will continue to form and materialize ideas from the Community Conversation the Food and Housing Security Initiative hosted in the fall. If you are interested in attending the conversation, please contact Lindsay Batchelor, event co-chair.

Funding from an OIED Diversity Mini-Grant supported the survey administration and costs associated with holding the two Community Conversations.

“It’s a serious concern when almost 10% of the over 34,000 students on campus have experienced homelessness. We need to dig deeper to understand the reasons and experiences,” states Haskett. She said students often feel they are the only one experiencing the problem and feel isolated because no one is talking about the issues. The purpose of the initiative is to get the larger campus to have an open discussion and generate solutions.

“With this initiative, we are thinking about how we want to support all of our students’ needs – and that support may look different for each student,” said Wright. The Food and Housing Security Initiative worked with the Division of Academic and Student Affairs to develop the new website portal that includes links to all campus resources for students’ food, housing, financial, education and other basic needs.

The Wolfpack Styled Professional Clothing Closet for example, operated by the Career Development Center, provides students with professional clothing donated by faculty, staff, alumni and employers. Wright pointed out that using this resource can be difficult because it means asking for help, which is then compounded by the fear of judgement. Some students may not have an issue seeking help but may fear how their peers might react to where they acquired the clothing​.

Bigger than the fear of using the resources or asking for assistance are the questions, “How do I tell my peer where I got my clothing?” and “Will people think less of me because I can’t afford to shop at the mall? or “Will people think I’m scamming the system?” According to Wright, the response requires an entire community’s cultural shift. “Students need the campus to be informed, trained and compassionate,” she said.

In a society that demonizes accepting assistance such as SNAP Benefits, the Food and Housing Security Initiative is working to start more conversations around the topic to dispel the stigma. While having these conversations is vital, working toward solutions is even more important. “This is a crisis,” said Wright “so timeliness is a critical factor.”

Students who use the services should feel good about using all of the resources that NC State offers to help them succeed.

Qulea Anderson, a second-year student from Warrenton, North Carolina majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, learned about the resources this year when she saw information about Feed the Pack while in the TRIO Office. She also reached out to her academic coach, Rebecca Woskoff, and Sarah Wright, and found out about how to get health insurance to be able to see a doctor. Anderson says she feels safe and comfortable using the pantry because it isn’t busy and you can walk around and pick out what you want.

Regarding this year’s common reading selection, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, Anderson says, “I read the summary of it and it sounds like an interesting book. I like the idea of it and how it’s going to talk about what people really don’t see or understand and what is happening to people and families. It’s something people don’t really discuss.” Haskett notes that the Food and Housing Security Initiative will partner with New Student Programs to ensure that campus discussions of the book include a focus on issues of poverty at NC State.

Anderson says she doesn’t have a problem sharing her situation with her peers. “I feel like I can talk to them about pretty much anything. They’ve been there for me since we were kids and they were there when my parents died. I’ve grown close with my roommate and I talk to her about the things going on in my life. It was a bit freeing in a sense. I know this line is overused, but it actually felt like a weight had been lifted. I could get things off of my chest and not have to keep everything in and try to deal with it alone.”

When asked what could be some things that could help in the future in terms of resources students may need, for example, during breaks when dorms close, Anderson says, “I heard that NC State offers emergency housing. It’s a resource on the Pack Essentials website. I think that there should be some housing around any college campus for students during breaks. It wouldn’t function fully as a homeless shelter but something of the sort. I’ve been told about some people opening up their homes for students who don’t have anywhere to go during the breaks. Also, it’s not just having those resources once they have been created, but to publicize them.”

Austin Butler is a communications intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity. She is a senior majoring in science, technology and society.