The University Network

As Student Hunger And Homelessness Spike, Here’s How They Can Access Aid

When COVID-19 struck the United States in March, thousands of college students were forced into food and housing insecurity. When campuses closed, they lost their jobs and meal plans. Many were left without a safe and supportive home to go back to. 

In total, nearly three in five U.S. college students have experienced some sort of basic needs insecurity during the pandemic, according to a report highlighting the findings of a survey conducted by Temple University’s HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice, whose primary goal is to end student hunger and homlessness. 

Forty-four percent of students at two-year colleges and 38 percent of students at four-year institutions reported that they’ve struggled to continuously afford nutritious food during the pandemic. Thirty-six percent of two-year students and 41 percent of four-year students reported struggling to find a safe, consistent place to sleep, while 11 percent and 15 percent, respectively, were left completely homeless. 

“This survey confirms what students have been telling their institutions, the media and anyone who would listen over the past several months: their health and well-being have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” the authors wrote in the report.  

Things have been even worse for minority students. While 52 percent of white students have experienced some sort of basic needs insecurity over the course of the pandemic, 71 percent of Black students and 65 percent of Latinx students reported facing one of those challenges. 

These rates are particularly concerning because a students’ abilities to access nutritious food and safe places to live are directly correlated with their likelihood to graduate on time, according to the report. 

Unfortunately, student hunger and homelessness are not new phenomena. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many students — who’ve had to deal with rising college costs and work low-wage jobs — have struggled to afford their basic needs, according to the report. The pandemic has simply exacerbated the situation. 

“With the emergence of COVID-19, the lives of students throughout higher education were substantially disrupted, practically overnight,” the authors wrote in the report. 

To compensate for the disruptions, in March, colleges and universities rushed to build up emergency aid funds for students, but they were quickly depleted. 

The federal government chipped in with a $6.2 billion emergency aid package for college students as a part of the CARES Act. But due to strict guidelines, many students were left out.

HOPE Center’s guide to help students cover their basic needs

Understanding that students are still in desperate need for financial support, the HOPE Center has created an in-depth guide to help students access money and resources to help cover their basic needs. 

In the guide, the authors illustrate ways in which those who’ve lost their jobs can get money. They offer advice and provide links to help students obtain funds by applying for unemployment insurance and effectively apply for aid through their college or university. They also suggest effective ways to help students land new jobs, among other things. 

Additionally, the authors provide guidance on how students can reduce their credit card, utility, student loans or other bills. 

They give advice on how to reduce spending on food and provide helpful links to assist students in finding local food providers. 

They offer instruction on how to re-locate or find a place to live and include links to companies and organizations that offer discounts or emergency financial assistance to college students who’ve been displaced. 

And for those who are in need of mental or physical medical attention and don’t have the money to pay for it, the authors provide information and link to resources to help them find free or low-cost care. 

Also included in the guide are links to resources and information to assist parenting students, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, immigrant students and undocumented students. 

Additional resources for students 

In the HOPE Center’s report, the authors also point to two additional online resources for students struggling to afford their basic needs.

Swift Student is a free platform that assists students with financial aid appeals. It helps students whose families have experienced a significant change in income write a financial aid appeal letter to their college or university. 

It walks users through crucial steps of the financial aid appeal process by helping them understand if they are eligible, what documents they’ll need, how to write an appeal letter and how they can submit the letter to their financial aid office. 

COVIDCollegeSupport.com provides a “wealth of resources” to help students get back on their feet. The site offers students help with everything from accessing food, housing and money to healthcare, WiFi, transportation, legal needs and more. 

The site is extremely user-friendly and even provides city-specific guides, so students can access the support systems closest to them.