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Students Advocate to End Campus Hunger & Homelessness in LA with Rise

Posted January 22, 2020 by Rise

This is an update on the winning proposal from the LEARN category in the 2019 LA2050 challenge.

Rise is excited to continue our advocacy work to end campus hunger and homelessness in Los Angeles by training and supporting students in the creation of on-campus basic needs advocacy campaigns.

According to The Hope Center's #RealCollege survey, 1 in 5 Los Angeles Community College students experience homelessness and almost 40% experience food insecurity. Our campaigns are bringing urgency to these issues and demanding college administrators take action to address these problems that are standing in the way of their students' ability to stay in school and graduate.

Our Progress, Challenges & Next Steps

I: Ideation Phase

This past summer we conducted three town halls with students, community stakeholders and organizations to brainstorm big ideas to end campus hunger and homelessness. We compiled the list of ideas from our town halls and had our community at large vote on the top three strategies. The three strategies that were chosen are:

  • Los Angeles City College (LACC): Identify existing campus spaces that could be converted into safe, overnight shelters with security and support staff.
  • UCLA: Replicate and expand the Students 4 Students shelter model and other student housing by using underutilized spaces that have potential for safe shelter or permanent housing.
  • Pasadena City College (PCC): Align financial aid enrollment with the CalFresh application so that students can auto-verify their eligibility and don't have to go to the DPSS office separately.

II: Implementation Phase

In the fall we hired two co-organizing managers to run these three campaigns: Jemere Calhoun, the Associated Student Government President at LACC, supervised LACC, and Saba Ansari, a 4th-year student at CSU Fullerton, supervised UCLA and PCC. Both Jemere and Saba had extensive organizing backgrounds.

Saba and Jemere hired 8 student organizing fellows, spread across the three campuses, to build these advocacy campaigns from the ground up. Our student organizing fellows created petitions, built relationships with like-minded on-campus groups, met with campus administrators and gathered hundreds of petition signatures through tabling and attendance at on-campus events.

Below are more campus-specific updates, challenges and next steps from Jemere and Saba:

LACC Update, Challenges + Next Steps:

Going into this campaign, we knew that the LACC administration had already refused to move forward with an existing plan to use a campus parking lot for overnight shelter, voicing the need for an approximate $50 million grant in order to cover security and insurance issues. Given the parking lot plan was stalled, we identified the women's gym as another underutilized space that could be converted into an overnight shelter at a lower cost. Our team worked to build support on campus by partnering with other on-campus groups focused on homelessness and thus far have collected 645 petition signatures. The LACC Associated Student Government has also endorsed the petition, raising the legitimacy and urgency of the campaign with administrators.

This semester, we will build out our team of student organizers to 4 and we will focus our efforts on partnering with and sharing the perspectives of the most vulnerable populations on campus, including LGBTQ and mentally and physically disabled students who are facing housing insecurity. We will also escalate our tactics to put more pressure on our administration by providing a liability waiver for students, obtaining a grant to provide liability insurance or physical security, writing an op-ed and marching on the parking lot and Women's Gym.

We anticipate that the emergency shelter would directly impact 50-100 at one time, and would be a step in the right direction in combating housing insecurity on our campus.

UCLA Update, Challenges + Next Steps:

Our ask of Chancellor Block to invest $1M in a student-run homeless shelter on-campus is bold, but not that bold in the context of UCLA's $5B+ endowment. However, given the administration's prior decision to not support or fund the UCLA student-led shelter, Students 4 Students, our hope is that the power of student organizing this time around will gather the momentum and awareness necessary so that UCLA's administration can't say no.

Our team of 4 organizing fellows built a solid foundation for our campaign, collecting 860 petition signatures and forming partnerships with other basic needs-focused organizations on campus like Cafe 580 and Bruin Dine. Our fellows began meeting with administrators as well, including UCLA's Dean of Students. However, in the meeting it was clear that the administration is still in denial of the homeless problem on campus.

Nonetheless, momentum is growing as The Daily Bruin's Editorial Board published this article in December and another article about our students' work in early January. To build on that momentum, this semester we will escalate our tactics to put more pressure on UCLA's administration with more press, endorsements of the petition by student government and other campus organizations, an on-campus demonstration, and additional meetings with campus administrators.

We anticipate that the proposed on-campus, student-led shelter would directly impact 30-50 students per year at UCLA, but UCLA's investment would send a signal to other well-endowed institutions that they should start dedicating significant resources to address the issue of student homelessness on their campuses as well.

Pasadena City College Update, Challenges + Next Steps:

PCC has been an uphill battle for our team. We started out the semester with a partnership with the Lancer Pantry, which ended up falling through for various reasons. Additionally, we had one strong student organizer leave the position early on, so it took us a good amount of time to rehire. Because of these obstacles, we weren't able to build relationships on or off-campus with many groups this past semester.

However, we will now have a team of 4 strong student organizers to build on the 120 petition signatures that were collected last semester as well as develop relationships with the student services and financial aid offices to further our goal.

We anticipate that the direct impact of using financial aid data to verify CalFresh eligibility would be an additional 2,500 students enrolled. Our hope would be that PCC could be a model for all public colleges in California looking to address their students' food insecurity through CalFresh enrollment.

Additional Campuses:

This semester we will hire 3 additional student organizers to build basic needs advocacy campaigns on Los Angeles Trade Tech College and West Los Angeles College campuses.

What Our Fellows Have Learned (So Far):

“I had no idea the extent to which student hunger affected my campus before I became a fellow at Rise. Learning about some of our students' stories was an extremely important, eye-opening experience for me and one that has changed my understanding about the effects and impact of student hunger on college campuses forever."

“Through the fellowship, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and forced myself to interact with people I never would have normally talked to. It has really been such a growth-inducing experience for me this semester, and I can not wait to get back to doing it in the spring semester!"