Spokane community colleges help hungry, homeless students

SPOKANE, Wash. — A new national study has shined a light on a persistent problem across college campuses: homelessness and hunger.

The #RealCollege Survey is a national analysis of basic needs insecurity among college students. This included Washington data from more than 13,500 students enrolled at 38 of Washington’s technical and community colleges. For perspective, there are about 143,750 students enrolled in 34 Washington technical and community colleges.

The survey showed that about one in five Washington community college students were homeless last year. About 40% of students experienced hunger or struggled to buy the healthy food they needed.

Spokane Falls Community College Acting Vice President of Learning Jim Brady said the trend makes sense with rising tuition and the cost of living.

“It’s not a complete surprise that these conditions exist, but the extent to which they are acute needs, ya, that’s always a surprise because you don’t want that,” Brady said.

Administrators with both Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College said they have had programs in place for years to combat these issues, including a free food pantry.

Spokane Falls Community College Student Government Events Programmer Kevin Robinson said the food pantry has helped him when he needed it. Not having to stress about his next meal had a lasting impact.

“I have a full fridge and that is very nice. It allows me to focus on classes,” Robinson said.

Spokane Community College Student Government President Terri Crafts has seen the impact the pantry can have. Students can stop by once a month to get items from fresh fruit to diapers.

“It’s sad that we are in a society where we have to have these resources. But, I’m very grateful that our college has done such a great job in making sure there is availability to the students who are so desperately in need,” Crafts said.

Spokane Falls Community College Acting Vice President of Learning Dr. Chrissy Davis Jones emphasized the importance of using assistance programs, like the pantry, when needed. She believes it’s also crucial that students apply for financial aid. Staff are excited to guide current and potential students toward reaching higher education goals without going broke.

Davis Jones said the first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The form helps students see whether they are eligible for financial aid from the federal or state government.

Washington has a new grant called the Washington College Grant. It offers free and partial tuition for some public schools in the state, depending on your income. This fall will be the first time students will benefit from this.

Learning about options like the Washington College Grant is an example of how staff at the college can help students.

“Us helping students with financial literacy is a big part of our work with financial aid so the students understand how to manage and budget their money,” Dr. Davis Jones said. “How can they stretch the dollar so it’s not just tuition fees and books, but living expenses.”

Both Dr. Davis Jones and Robinson said that sometimes a social stigma can stand in the way of getting help, but they don’t think it should.

“You are not alone. There are so many of us who have the same issues and have the same resources and that’s why they’re here,” Robinson said.