Destigmatizing homelessness at USD

According to a study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab addressing food and housing insecurity among undergraduates surveyed, more than 4,000 undergraduates at 10 community colleges are struggling with this issue.

The Homeless Outreach Student Transition Program (HOST) is a non-profit organization that deals with food and housing insecurity for college students. Senior Robert Arca created the program when he attended Mesa Community College and implemented it at the University of San Diego in fall of 2016.

“While studying at Mesa, I discovered that college students are struggling with food and housing,” Arca said. “I started a food pantry for the homeless students on campus and created a list of resources for students to use. HOST is an emergency program ready for people whenever a problem arises. My friends at Mesa College encouraged me to keep the project alive, and I brought it to USD.”

Arca explained that when he first approached the project to members of USD, some faculty assumed it was not a problem on campus. To get the information straight from the source, Arca decided to interview several students from USD, San Diego State University, and Mesa College and discovered that it is a problem people are starting to address.

“Homelessness is a very serious, very big, complicated problem for those affected by it and for those homeless,” Arca said. “But it is also very difficult for anyone trying to help solve the problem. [Homelessness is a] serious social, cultural, economic problem that affects all levels of society.”

Another club on campus that focuses on this same issue is the Torero Renaissance Scholars. Cynthia Avery, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, started this program six years ago. Avery explained its mission.

“It’s for former foster youth, at-risk, and homeless students,” Avery said. “We have expanded the program to help more students. We support students through bi-weekly programs on how to do taxes and fill out the FAFSA, as well as career development. We try to develop the community for these students and put together welcome kits and finals support kits.”

The Torero Renaissance Scholars has about 18 students involved with the program.

“We also offer housing opportunities with Residential Life, summer internships through a grant, and we are collaborating with USD HOST and Mortar Board for the food pantry,” Avery said.

USD HOST is an official club that was established at USD in the fall of 2016. The organization has implemented food pantries on campus containing non-perishable items that have come from the cash and food drive last fall from both HOST and Mortar Board.

“I believe the food drive was successful because it  broke the taboo of homelessness at USD and brought it to the surface,” Arca said.

Avery confirmed that the food pantries located in Barcelona 301 at the Student Support Services office and inside SLP 403 are accessible for any student struggling with food insecurity.

Austin Galy, Student Advisor at the Tom & Karen Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action at USD explained certain homeless situations.

“Knowing the folks that work on homelessness from a federal and national [level], what we are starting to realize is that the meaning of homelessness has far more breadth,” Galy said. “It is not just a matter of counting but a matter of paying attention to certain factors: are you noticing that they are not showering, or wearing the same thing? Realizing that homelessness could be being permanently stuck in your car, or never having a lease and always crashing at someone’s house.”

Galy also expressed the taboo of homelessness at USD.

“I think that it is not a conscious thought for most students because our school is very affluent and most students have a high socioeconomic status,” Galy said. “But it is very real for the people affected by it which is more people than what most people might think. HOST has been working on tabling and creating. I think if they continue to have those conversations it will hopefully become more normalized conversations over time.”

Arca was invited to attend the #RealCollege Convening in Milwaukee hosted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab to further explain this problem on college campuses in April of 2016. He had to seek legal advice to approve his program and took USD HOST from the level of a student project to a permanent non-profit organization.

“I sought legal advice to turn USD HOST into a non-profit organization federally approved by the government and the IRS as a tax-exempt corporation to ensure any donations made are tax-deductible,” Arca said. “The USD Legal Clinic helped incorporate the non-profit on USD’s campus. I hope to continue research on this subject and finding solutions to the lack of affordable housing for college students.”

Arca hopes to continue research on this subject and finding solutions to the lack of affordable housing for college students.

“In my particular case, I am trying to isolate the problem and focus on college students,” Arca said. “The number of college students affected is so big we can easily be recognized as our own demographic within the problem. The problem can even lead to changes in federal government. Federal guidelines for a homeless college student do not exist. My goal is to make it its own category to allocated funds, research, and solutions.”

Galy stated that he has had conversations with students who don’t have a place to live, either now or for the summer.

“I appreciate what HOST is doing because it is very important,” Galy said. “I try to challenge myself and others to be more aware of what others are experiencing. Pay attention, listen, take the time out of your day to step back from all of the self-absorption, and to notice the signs. If  you see these signs, just be a good friend to somebody and maybe that can be the impetus to figuring out that there is actually something going on.”

This semester, the USD HOST club will be hosting a volleyball tournament to raise funds for increased opportunities to help those unable to afford food on Thursday, April 27 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. by the Immaculata lawn and Saturday, April 29 on the lawn behind Copley library from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It costs $10 to participate and shirts will be sold for another $10.

For more information about resources provided by the organization, please visit the USD HOST Facebook page or contact Matt Burke 561-568-8216 or for emergency housing assistance.

Tayler Reviere Verninas | Asst. News Editor