Students May Be at More at Risk for Hunger and Homelessness During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic bears down on the country for a 10th consecutive month, college students are facing even greater challenges in meeting their basic needs.

Humboldt State University Social Work Professor Jen Maguire is a nationally recognized scholar on food insecurity and homelessness on college campuses. Her groundbreaking 2018 research found that over 10 percent of California State University students had experienced homelessness and 42 percent experienced food insecurity. She explains that college students often face impossible choices between paying for books and tuition or food and housing.

“A significant number of students have lost jobs or hours due to COVID-19,” explains HSU’s Oh SNAP! Food Pantry coordinator, Ravin Craig. “It’s incredibly difficult to be a successful student when you don’t know when your next meal is going to be.”

>>Related Story: An Unprecedented Look at CSU Students Food and Housing Insecurity

To address the intensifying struggles facing students, Maguire will join a November 17 webinar hosted by the CSU Chancellor’s Office as a panelist on “Supporting Students’ Basic Needs in the California State University”

The webinar takes place during National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week (November 15-22), a national event designed to draw attention to and highlight solutions for the systemic problems of hunger and homelessness.

At HSU, additional events include virtual workshops, a cooking class. HSU’s Basic Needs website is also in the works. During the CSU webinar, Maguire will discuss her most recent research, which analyzes the impact of COVID-19 on food and housing insecurity for students.

“We have found that being on campus may be a stabilizer and protective factor,” says Maguire, explaining that students often supplement their needs via food pantries like HSU’s Oh SNAP! program. With many students now reshuffled across the state due to COVID-19, finding a stable place to live—with reliable Wi-fi and technology—is harder than ever.

Maguire’s research on COVID-19 and meeting students’ basic needs is funded by the Chancellor’s Office. Based on her findings, the CSU will develop system-wide recommendations to address food and housing insecurity in the ongoing distance learning climate.

“We’re learning that the non-traditional student is now the traditional student,” says Maguire.

Rather than the decades-old archetype of the 18-year-old living in the dorms, Maguire explains that the majority of today’s CSU students are financially independent. Many are supporting their own children and hold down one or more jobs while going to school full-time. With rising housing costs across rural and urban California, college students were coming up short long before the added instabilities of COVID-19.

“No one can succeed in college without a stable home and adequate nutrition,” says Maguire. “We’re finding that the students who were struggling before the pandemic are now struggling even more. “

Maguire has been published in a new book from John Hopkins University Press, “Food Insecurity on Campus: Action and Intervention,”: which examines innovative strategies to address hunger on campus including how practice and policy can be improved when informed by research.

“The book [“Food Insecurity on Campus”] is about getting underneath these issues,” explains Maguire. Along with her co-author, Long Beach State Social Work Professor Rashida Crutchfield, Maguire contributed a chapter titled, “Research as a Catalyst for Positive Systemic Change.” Both Maguire and Crutchfield are the Principal Investigators in the CSU’s Basic Needs Initiative study, which led to $640,000 in grant funding for direct services at HSU earlier this year.

Webinar: Supporting Students’ Basic Needs in the California State University
Tuesday, Nov. 17 at noon
Register here

Dr. Lea M. Jarnagin, Interim Systemwide Director of Student Wellness & Basic Needs Initiatives at the CSU Office of the Chancellor
Dr. Rashida Crutchfield, Associate Professor at Long Beach State
Dr. Jennifer Maguire, Associate Professor at Humboldt State
Michael Taylor, Graduate Student at Stanislaus State