University Park, IL,
14:11 PM

Hungry and Homeless at GSU

Last year, 76 Governors State University students were asked if they struggled to find quality food in the 30 days prior or adequate housing in the year prior as part of a national study of College Student Food and Housing Insecurities led by the Wisconsin HOPE lab. More than half of the students surveyed reported food and housing insecurities.

In the largest survey of this kind, HOPE lab—a university-based applied research laboratory of scientists—talked to 43,000 students from 66 two- and four-year institutions, including GSU, and found 36% of university students were food insecure in the 30 days leading up to the survey. Similarly, 36% of university students reported being housing insecure in the last year.

“Still Hungry and Homeless in College” shines a light on an issue hidden in plain sight, said Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aurélio Valente.

“It raises the visibility of this issue on our campus. We cannot assume that students have the critical foundations of safety, employment, housing, and food access necessary to focus on their academic pursuits,’’ he said. “This is a truly critical issue for student well-being and student success.”

The report defines basic needs insecurity as food insecurity, homelessness, or “housing insecurity”, which means the inability to pay rent or utilities or the need to move frequently.

“Homeless” is defined as someone without a without a place to live, often residing in a shelter, an automobile, an abandoned building or outside.

“Food insecurity” is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied with physiological sensations of hunger.

At GSU, about 74% of students surveyed experienced at least one of these forms of basic needs insecurity in the previous year, and 13% had experienced all three forms of basic needs insecurity.

Regardless of the specific need, the impact can be devastating and disproportionate.

GSU’s student demographic—51% are students of color and 56% received Pell grants in fall 2014—is among the hardest hit and at the highest risk, according to the study.

“Sizable fractions of students who were doing very poorly in college, getting grades below the C average typically required for maintaining financial aid and avoiding academic probation, were dealing with food and/or housing insecurity.”

At GSU, the issue of homeless and hungry students came to the forefront in 2017 following a national survey of college students’ basic needs. Since then, the GSU Office Dean of Students has launched programs to connect students to food and housing resources on and off campus.

GSU4U provides community connections for students in need. As part of the on-campus reach, the Office of Student Life coordinates the Jaguar Den, which provides food, personal toiletries – even clothing- to students.

On-campus resources include the GSU Food Pantry, Operation Healthy, the Career Closet, distributing emergency necessities (D.E.N.) and the popular Great American Bagel Pop-up Pantry on campus three days a week.

While students’ privacy and dignity is of the top concern, Valente said the increased visibility of the issue is necessary to attract support.

“GSU faculty and staff can be part of the solution by becoming a GSU4U ambassador, who can help students connect and navigate resources if they are aware of the challenges students may experience around hunger and housing. Ambassadors can be identified by the GSU4U Ambassador sticker.”

Contact for more information on how to become an ambassador or to learn about workshops.