For some students, writing an essay or studying for an exam might be the biggest worry they face during the term. But for others, knowing where they’re going to sleep, or where their next meal is coming from, is a constant source of fear and concern.
On the surface, students who are sleeping in their cars or struggling to pay for food don’t look all that different, so the issue may not be one that is readily apparent. Also, students whose fundamental needs aren’t being met are likely to also struggle with smaller issues, like getting to class or turning in their assignments on time.
In September 2009, the doors of the Human Services Resource Center (HSRC) opened to provide a place for students facing major challenges to their survival. Staffed part time by GTA DeeDee Overholser and five to seven undergraduate students, the center is housed in 233 Snell Hall as part of the ASOSU community.
“It’s a one-stop location that provides access to resources on and off campus,” Overholser explained. She and her staff have been forming a close relationship with organizations throughout the community who provide food aid, housing assistance and other programs that could mean the difference between a student staying in school or dropping out.
While HSRC staff keep a stash of non-perishable food in the office for emergencies, they’re more likely to refer students to the campus food pantry, which is currently seeing about 80 students come in each time they open their doors. Staff also help students fill out food stamp application forms, and have a representative from the Department of Human Services come in once a term to process applications.
Students also can apply for the campus-based MealBux program through ASOSU. The program gives students up to $250 per term to spend at campus food vendor locations. During winter term, 635 students applied for the program, and about half were able to receive MealBux.
The center has served between three and four homeless students per term since the center opened. For some students who are simply in between apartments or waiting for another living situation to arise, staff can sometimes work with University Housing and Dining Services to provide a temporary room for up to 30 days. For more serious housing issues, staff refer students to Community Outreach Inc., which provides shelter space for displaced people.
Students may not know where to turn for help, but additionally, Overholser said they may not know what to ask for or what is available.
“They may ask for one thing, but as we talk to them, more needs come up,” she said, “and we may know about resources for them.”
Staff also are willing to make the calls to multiple agencies for the students, so that they don’t get discouraged by being turned down several times before finally finding an organization that can help. And they can also give agencies a heads up that a student is coming to speak to them, so that they are able to process them quickly.
Currently, former OSU Dean of Home Economics Clara Pratt is conducting a needs assessment based on information provided by the 1,000 students who have already used the resource office. While Overholser doesn’t have a complete account of student demographics, she said it generally reflects the OSU population at large, and is spread evenly among departments and groups.
The center is overseen by an advisory board, consisting of 30 partners, including campus members and representatives from a number of community organizations.
The proposed budget for next academic year for the center includes funding for a full time non-classified staff member to run the center, so that students can be served on a full-time basis. The position would be funded with student fees. Additionally, Overholser hopes to include a rental assistance subsidy that would help prevent students living on the edge of homelessness. She’ll know the status of the budget by the end of February.
Overholser hopes that faculty and staff who encounter a student in need of assistance can direct them to the resource office. She is depending on word of mouth, as well as a modest marketing campaign, to inform the campus community about what the center has to offer.
For Overholser, making sure every student is keeping their head above water just makes sense.
“When students uproot from their home towns and come here to give OSU four or more years of their life, we have an ethical obligation to provide a safety net for them.”
To contact the Human Service Resource Center, call 541-737-3747 or vist the office in 233 Snell/MU East. You can also contact the center at email@example.com
~ Theresa Hogue