Illustration by Rose Collins

A recent influx of state funding will strengthen basic needs programs at UC Santa Cruz. 

On Sept. 30, UCSC received a $1.5 million grant from the state to address students’ basic needs. The money will go toward reducing food and housing insecurity — prevalent dilemmas among California university students.

“California is the outlier [among other states] because of the big housing and affordability issues for college students,” said Tim Galarneau, co-chair of the Food Security and Basic Needs working group at UCSC. “If their needs aren’t met, it’s clear that students’ mental health and education will be severely impacted.”

UCSC’s basic needs team provides access to on-campus pantries to help students in immediate need of food and conducts outreach and awareness efforts so students learn about food and housing resources available to them.

The $1.5 million will increase opportunities for the campus to be proactive in ensuring students’ basic needs are met. 

“We’ve been talking a lot about reaching out to incoming students before they even get to [UCSC], and having that conversation about basic needs and what it really is,” said Estefania Rodriguez, basic needs coordinator for the dean of students. “The students then know much more about the resources to reach out to before they even get here.”

Assistive programs should take strong proactive approaches to help financially insecure students before they suffer from food or housing shortages, said Margaret Bishop, basic needs coordinator at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

“Instead of relying on emergency services, there could be counseling programs or workshops for students to learn how to search for off-campus housing, how to find affordable housing or what to do when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” Bishop said. “This is more preventative intervention to help students be able to anticipate when they might go through a crisis.”

With the grant money, basic needs staff are looking into creating a resource about food and housing insecurities for uninformed students. The increased funding will also finance current staff positions on the basic needs committee and add new staff to projects like the Cowell Basic Needs Coffee Shop.

UC students in particular experience some form of food or housing insecurity due to high tuition costs and rent prices in college towns. Food insecurity affects 48 percent of UCSC undergraduates — 4 percent higher than the UC average.

“Basic needs insecurities were kind of a sleeping monster,” said Joel Campos, director of community outreach at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. “[The problem] got to a point where it kept growing, and growing and growing, and it’s not okay to have all these students who are homeless and hungry and still going to school. The dynamics of college are changing.” 

In response to the growing crisis of food and housing insecurity, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1278 into law on Oct. 5. The law focuses on informing community college and university students about food, housing and mental health resources.

“In my ideal world, we would not have to have a pantry and every student would have what they needed,” said basic needs coordinator Estefania Rodriguez. “Students would get their financial aid, and housing prices would be low enough so that they could afford it and not have to come to us. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to be here and I wouldn’t have a job. That’s when I know we’ve done enough and I can move on to something else.”