Colleges resort to ‘food scholarships,’ pantries to help hungry, homeless students

With Congress mired in partisan gridlock and the White House showing little interest, the nation’s colleges and universities are scrambling to address the growing crisis of hungry, homeless students, as Bridget Huber reports in FERN’s latest story.

“[F]ood insecurity and housing instability are defining factors of today’s college experience for a significant number of students,” Huber writes. “A recent survey of nearly 86,000 students found that 45 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, meaning they had limited or uncertain access to food. Fifty-six percent had been housing insecure in the previous year — that is, they were unable to pay full rent, lived in overcrowded conditions or experienced other instability. Seventeen percent had been homeless at some point during the year. Despite a lack of representative national data, the evidence has continued to mount, and a steady stream of news stories has documented what it looks like on the ground: Students sleeping in airports and in their cars; taking “hunger naps” when they can’t afford to eat; trading tips on how to keep their homework dry when living in the woods.”

A comprehensive solution would “require the federal government to knit together social safety net programs with higher education policy — in essence overhauling the national approach to higher education in light of these new realities.” But that is unlikely anytime soon.

Instead, “a patchwork response to the problem of student hunger and homelessness is taking shape on campuses and in state legislatures across the country, from meal vouchers and emergency loans to help with food stamp applications.” This piecemeal approach can’t solve the problem, but it can make the college experience a bit more manageable for struggling students.

Still, the frustration is evident among kids who have been told for years that education was their way out of poverty. “As Carolyn Tinoco, a master’s student at California State University, Dominguez Hills who scrubbed toilets and ate from the food pantry to get through college, put it: “You’re selling me the American dream, but you’re really just dangling it in my face.”