Temple University study uncovers reality of food insecurity and homelessness among college students

Illustration by Victoria Martin   Study finds that 36 percent of college students are food insecure.

Illustration by Victoria Martin

Study finds that 36 percent of college students are food insecure.

By Syeda Sameeha, News Reporter

The broke college student trope has long been part of popular culture, from the kid who lives entirely on Ramen and boxed mac and cheese to the throngs of college students who crash events with free food. Perhaps many of these are exaggerated stereotypes on TV and the butt of many jokes, but it’s a reality for many.

In a study released Tuesday April 3 by Temple University and the Wisconsin Hope Lab, about 36 percent of students on college campuses are reported to be food insecure or to not have enough to eat. The report also showed that another 36 percent of students say they face housing insecurities and 9 percent report that they are homeless. 

The study was one of the first to include students from a wide number of institutions from community colleges, public, and private universities illustrating that food and housing insecurities are national conversations on college campuses all over the country including Elmhurst College.

EC Student Government Association [SGA] has been on the forefront in creating initiatives to combat this issue. 

At its March 15 meeting, the organization voted in favor of a proposal allocating funds to a J-Pass that could be used by the EC case manager to buy food for students facing food insecurity.

“This would provide food for hungry students as they need it and as they come, just to have it to be a more discrete way,” said SGA President Estrella Vargas. “I know we were talking about a food pantry which sometimes that isn’t as discrete, but having this way would provide funds to people that need it the most.”

SGA is also working in partnership with Chartwells to allow students to donate leftover J-Pass money to the fund to help students in need.

“When people have leftover money at the end of the year inevitably instead of buying cases of Gatorade, they can just put it towards donating to that fund,” said Vargas.

While EC does not collect any records that would show how many students are actually in these types of situations and many students may feel stigmatized or embarrassed to reveal their situation, this issue does exist at this campus.

Monisha Murjani is the newly hired case manager at Elmhurst College who works with students who may have academic concerns or financial concerns like food and housing insecurities. 

“I know people may be shocked this happens on a college campus, but this happens everywhere,” said Murjani. “I think these issues cut across all demographics and all populations. It’s not like a cookie cutter thing, it affects all people. Some people don’t understand these issues and what these issues are because there is fear to talk about it and there is not a lot of info out there.”

Murjani also noted that the definition of a traditional college student has changed. 

“I think a traditional mode of a college student being 18-22 years old is not always the case. A lot of our students are working multiple jobs, they may be older and may be supporting families so it’s not a ‘traditional’ college student,” said Murjani. “I think that’s not always visible because people are either trying to hide them or not openly talking about them, so I think it’s important to remember students come from various backgrounds.”

The majority of EC students are commuters. As EC chaplain Scott Matheney notes many of these students may come from different communities with varying levels of resources and support.

In fact, according to a 2013 report by Social IMPACT Research Center, a leading poverty research program in the Midwest states that about 27,540 Dupage County residents live in extreme poverty.

“A lot of the stories are there is a lack of family structure, so nowhere to turn to, and no other community they can turn to for help such as a faith community. Then there’s the whole embarrassment issue and the fear,” said Matheney. “I see that a lot with a lot of our commuter students, they’re just scraping together, poor college student model, but they’re just barely getting along and when they have to cut, where they cut is in stuff for themselves. So there’s essential things like room and board, place to sleep, car, gas, tuition and that’s the stuff we watch a lot, people have some, but they’ve got nowhere near enough and every month they’re struggling to get through, to get to summer so maybe they can work.”

The College is currently working on developing resources for these types of students. Right now, offices like the Niebuhr Center or the Office of Student Affairs buy extra food for students in need to come in and take what they want through out of pocket funds.

Another resource is Murjani, who is trained to help students dealing with these issues.

 “Whether that’s connecting students with campus jobs or working with them to connect them with food pantries in the community - I will work to find community resources from them, I will work to find counseling services or temporary housing or work opportunities. It’s case by case and I’ll work with a student directly to kind help them with the issue they are facing.”

“Some of these issues are not easy for students to talk about. So it’s not like I’m getting droves of students saying I’m food insecure or I’m homeless, explained Murjani. “I’m getting folks to know our office, who I am, what I do, so they feel comfortable enough coming in and talking to folks here about what is going on.”

In terms of housing insecurities, the college has opened up dorms for students in need during Spring Break. 

But as Murjani noted, this can be an issue for students who don’t have any place to go when campus is closed during other breaks or the summer.

“I would recommend that if student is struggling with housing and worried about that, they just meet with me directly and I can either figure out if there’s something in the community.” said Murjani.

“I’ll be honest, I think there is a lot of work to be done, but I think it’s great because there is a lot of work being done and then it’s just hopefully sooner than later some of these initiatives get started.”