All things aren’t exactly sunny in California, especially for students pursuing their college education while trying to simply survive and make ends meet- food insecurity as well as homelessness are not rare among students on college campuses.
According to a Wisconsin HOPE Lab survey in 2015, it was estimated that 52 percent of community college students were food insecure- with 20 percent qualifying as hungry- and 52 percent were housing insecure, including 13 percent who were actually homeless.
Despite the Wisconsin HOPE Lab survey being conducted in 2015, this reality is still alive within the lives of our Cypress College peers. The Cypress College food bank, located in the Student Activities Center, has gone from providing aid for 65 students during the fall semester of 2017 to currently providing help to over 100 students.
Student Activities Director Dave Okawa states the increase is due to a combination of both an increase in need and new marketing strategies the Student Activities Center has used to promote the food bank to students on campus.
The food bank provides students with a supply of not only a variety of canned goods and other food items they can choose from, but also clothes students can take for themselves or for their children from the donation bin if need be.
Rae Requena, Student Activities Assistant at Cypress College, said the food bank has its regular visitors, which include students who depend on the food bank for their weekly supply of food since the food bank opened up 2 years ago.
Of these students, according to the Cypress College Food Bank Year End report for the school year of 2017-2018, 36.6% of the students receiving help from the food bank were also students enrolled in the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS).
EOPS not only assists students who are eligible for the program with achieving their academic goals here on campus but have other programs integrated within it to assist students depending on their specific situation, like the Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE) which is comprised of EOPS students who are also single parents receiving public assistance, along with CalWORKS which provides services such as work study to students who are receiving Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).
EOPS also helps connect students facing housing insecurity with public housing assistance agencies such as 211 in Orange County.
Housing insecurity, EOPS/CARE/CalWORKS director AnnMarie Ruelas said, is a common issue with the students they work with, but it’s an issue she mentions we’re seeing “more and more.”
In spite of the commonality and ever increasing issue of student homelessness with students at Cypress College and college campuses across the nation, the social stigma of being labeled as a “student in need,” might be keeping some students from reaching out to get help or even sharing the struggles of their situation with others.
Cypress Student Cindy Barajas recalled a recent memory she experienced on campus while sitting in her parked car. She noticed a person sleeping in their car next to her- something she described not as a “casual nap”, but sleeping in their car- complete with pillow and blanket. She said she didn’t want to bother them so she stayed in her car and watched Netflix, eventually noticing the person wake up, begin putting their things in the trunk of their car, and start changing their clothes.
“They changed and then I realized that they were brushing their teeth with a water bottle, and I had my windows down so I could smell the hair gel, and the Axe body spray.”
Barajas said the student put on their backpack and walked off looking “totally normal”, something she claimed she never saw first hand in all of her academic experience, despite attending different college campuses. She concluded her anecdote by calling it an “eye opener.”
These experiences are not rare and are an ongoing struggle for many peers Cypress College students brush shoulders with daily. For those students struggling with food insecurity or homelessness, information on many of the services mentioned above can be found on the Cypress College website, as well as the Student Activities Center and EOPS office.