The Economic Crisis Response Team, launched in 2008 as a subset of the Student Affairs office, assists students in immediate and dire financial crisis. There are four forms of aid students can receive through ECRT: meal vouchers, emergency housing, one-time grants or emergency short-term loans.
Students who qualify for the meal voucher program can receive up to 11 vouchers per quarter, which are donated by student organization Swipe Out Hunger, for a maximum of three quarters. The Dean of Students, Maria Blandizzi, said ECRT will explore giving students in financial crisis ongoing meal plans instead of single-use meal vouchers.
The Student Fee Advisory Committee funds emergency housing for up to 20 days in an open bed space in a university-owned property.
The Chancellor’s Grant is a one-time grant option for up to $4,000, Blandizzi said. UCLA provides short-term loans ranging from $1,500 to $1,700 at no interest, which must be repaid within one to three months.
Blandizzi said ECRT incorporated a Financial Wellness Program in 2012, which trains 10 students to help students in crisis plan and manage their finances.
A study early this year found that 42 percent of University of California students are food-insecure. Food insecurity is defined as limited access to adequate food because of financial constraints.
In response, two graduate student researchers in the Fielding School of Public Health facilitated a qualitative study which investigated food literacy and insecurity at UCLA.
Hannah Malan, a research assistant in the UC Healthy Campus Initiative, and Tyler Watson, a doctoral student in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, organized the study in 2016. They conducted 11 focus groups with undergraduate and graduate UCLA students to investigate what factors contribute to food insecurity at UCLA.
Malan and Watson are both members of the UC Global Food Initiative, which develops solutions to food insecurity and health issues throughout the country.
Malan said one finding from the study that surprised her most was that students often normalize unhealthy lifestyle choices.
“I was most surprised (by) how many students talked about food as a stressor in their lives,” Malan said. “Students’ struggling with food ... replicates the broader cultural norm that we just don’t have time or resources to take care of ourselves when we’re living in these demanding, stressful environments.”
Malan and Watson’s research showed many undergraduates are unaware that struggling with hunger meant they were food-insecure, and that the university did not actively inform students about food literacy.
Malan said they also found students sometimes forgo meals to offset the costs of university attendance.
“I think (what) we can do more as an institution of higher education (is) to give students the tools they need and communicate the values of … community health and well-being, which I think start with food,” Malan said.
How many pounds of produce did Swipe Out Hunger collect in Spring Quarter 2017?
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Donna Heikali, a fourth-year psychobiology student and vice president of Swipe Out Hunger, said the organization has shifted its focus since she joined during her sophomore year.
Heikali said when she first joined, students were primarily concerned with collecting swipes and converting them to vouchers. Now, the club focuses on raising awareness of the opportunity to enroll in CalFresh and its partnership with Food Forward.
Students can qualify to receive federal grocery stipends through CalFresh if they work at least 20 hours a week, receive work-study, have dependents or meet other criteria.
Swipe Out Hunger and Food Forward began a partnership in 2016 and work together every week to collect fresh produce from the Thursday farmers market in Westwood, Heikali said. Students distribute the produce vendors would otherwise leave behind to the Community Programs Office Food Closet, graduate student apartments and Los Angeles homeless shelters, and the vendors receive a tax break for their contributions.
Additionally, Swipe Out Hunger partnered with The Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA to host the campus’ first Homelessness Awareness Week during spring quarter.
Heikali said she realized how important food security resources are to UCLA students when she participated in a “move day” with Swipe Out Hunger during her second year. Move days transport donated food from the dining halls to the CPO Food Closet.
“There was a book (in CPO) that you could write things in, and one person wrote that the food closet was saving their life,” Heikali said. “That changed everything for me.”
Eddie Munguia, a third-year psychology student and co-president of Swipe Out Hunger, said his family is originally from Mexico, but he grew up in a predominantly low-income area in Oakland. He added he thinks the UCLA community struggles with finding an effective way to communicate available resources to students experiencing food insecurity.
“Once I realized there was an anonymous aspect to hunger, it impacted me,” Munguia said. “It could be a TA, a student, your roommate.”
In the future, he hopes Swipe Out Hunger will create closer ties with Bruin Shelter. He added he is trying to bridge the gap between housing and food insecurity and get resources directly to students using Bruin Shelter.
“You come to UCLA, which is a nice campus, and despite how nice that campus is there are still very real issues going on,” Munguia said. “I wasn’t able to understand that until I joined Swipe Out Hunger and saw the numbers and data.”
After launching in 2016, Bruin Shelter is expanding to accommodate the increasing number of students seeking its services.
Bruin Shelter, the first completely student-run homeless shelter in the nation exclusively for students, provides housing to students from UCLA and other local universities. The shelter is meant to be a temporary residence on a path to permanent housing for residents, said co-President Kate Lieb, a fifth-year psychology student.
Based on Harvard University’s shelter model, Bruin Shelter supports Students for Students, a 501(c)3-designated nonprofit organization. UCLA students coordinate the program with the founder of Bruin Shelter, Louis Tse. Tse received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from UCLA in 2016 and chose to be “rationally homeless” as a student, living out of his car to dedicate personal funds to starting the shelter.
Volunteers stay at Bruin Shelter from 7 to 11 p.m. each night and supervisors spend the entire night at the shelter. Two volunteers and two supervisors alternate between staying awake from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. They receive training based on the Hill’s resident assistant training, Lieb said.
Last year, the shelter housed about 10 students at a time, and plans to accommodate more in the future. Bruin Shelter received more than 100 applications after its pilot year and will prioritize students in need of immediate housing support. However, it has been unable to house residents during construction this quarter.
Volunteers offer resources such as financial and mental health counseling and connections to the Economic Crisis Response Team, which operates under Student Affairs at UCLA and provides different forms of emergency financial aid to students in need.
Lieb added that Bruin Shelter partners with graduate students in UCLA’s department of social welfare, who act as case managers for each Bruin Shelter resident, in addition to Swipe Out Hunger and other organizations that donate food and other goods.