The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
San Diego County’s two largest cities are taking part in a nationwide initiative to ensure students in pursuit of postsecondary education have access to basic needs, such as food and housing.
Chula Vista and San Diego will join five cities in identifying those needs and creating a plan to support students.
City officials say that meeting basic needs will increase the number of individuals who obtain degrees and credentials, and as a result improve the region’s workforce.
Chula Vista is concerned that our local college students are housing and food insecure,” Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas said in a statement, adding that the initiative will enable the city “to learn the best methods to assist these students.”
The initiative, “Cities Addressing Basic Needs to Promote Postsecondary and Workforce Success,” is an 18-month technical assistance project lead by the National League of Cities.
The Washington, D.C. based-organization, which represents 19,000 municipalities in the United States, will provide the selected cities with resources, guidance and access to experts.
Research shows the lack of access to basic needs – food, housing, transportation and childcare — negatively impacts a student’s academic success.
Having a successful college experience takes a lot of hard work and it’s even more difficult if you’re a student struggling with basic needs like food or housing,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement. “It’s hard to concentrate on homework when you don’t even know where you’re going to sleep at night.”
A 2019 survey of students at community colleges and four-year universities across the country found that 45% of students experience food insecurity — “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food.”
The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice study also found that 56% were housing insecure — not being able to pay rent or moving frequently but not necessarily homeless.
The nonprofit research organization also found that of the 86,000 college students who responded from more than 210 institutions, 17% experienced homelessness.
It’s those statistics that have placed this issue in the forefront not only for educational institutions but cities nationwide, said Bela Shah Spooner, program director with the National League of Cities.
Not only is housing and food insecurity a challenge, but from a city perspective, it means the possibility of unfilled jobs in the region.
Spooner said both San Diego County cities made it clear that there are “a lot of barriers” for residents interested in pursing a postsecondary education – a degree, credential or professional certificate.
One population identified by the cities, Spooner said, was the nearly 37,000 “disconnected youth” or individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are unemployed or not looking for work in the San Diego region.
“We’re in a good place to tackle that issue,” Spooner said, adding that cities have unique opportunities to leverage resources.
Unlike the other five cities, the City of Chula Vista and San Diego will be working together throughout the initiative.
Miranda Evans, economic development specialist for the city of Chula Vista, said the cities applied together because they saw it as an opportunity to more effectively address the issue as a region.
We need to get an understanding of our place in this issue,” Evans said. “Making sure resources are being placed where they would be most effective.”
Evans said the goal is to walk away from the initiative with a five-year strategic plan that will help mitigate the cost of living, improve access to childcare, address food and housing insecurity, and create a workforce pipeline for the region.
The local community colleges, universities and organizations that will be invited to participate are still unknown.
San Diego Mesa College President Pamela Luster said the opportunity for local government and educational institutions to come together to address this issue could be transformative.
Luster is the co-chair of the statewide Affordability, Food and Housing Access Task Force, which works to identify solutions to food and housing insecurity.
“Having something like this (initiative) could really change the structure of our institutions and the way that resources go to students,” Luster said.
Students in the San Diego Community College District, which includes City, Mesa and Miramar Colleges, participated in the Hope Center’s study and educators found that 46% of their students said they experienced food insecurity and 62% experienced housing insecurity.
Four-year universities also face this issue; the California State University in 2018 found that nearly 42 percent of their students reported food insecurity and nearly 11 percent reported being homeless.
Colleges and universities have opened food pantries and some work in collaboration with county services to address those issues.
Luster said she would like the cities to consider including the input of community colleges.
We are all out there doing this work,” Luster said. “We need to create intersection.”
The initiative is supported by the Kresge Foundation. Participating cities include: Denver, Colo.; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia, Penn.; Richmond, Va.; and Rochester, N.Y.
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Learn about another initiative to help youth achieve housing security: