Amber Pittman

Amber Pittman, a CSULB graduate, will present at the Food and Housing Security Conference.

Twenty-one percent to 24% of California State University system students are food insecure and 8% to 12% live in unstable housing conditions, according to a CSU report last year.

What’s happened since then and taking the next steps will be discussed next week at the Food and Housing Security Conference. The event — which includes about 200 school leaders and students — will highlight campus best practices, research findings and another CSU-wide study this fall. The conference is on Monday and Tuesday, June 20 and 21, at the chancellor’s office in Long Beach.

“It’s getting everyone in a room to talk about it,” California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said. “It’s not just about raising awareness. It’s asking, ‘What are you doing about it?’”

Dr. Rashida Crutchfield, conducted the first study and is in charge of two more phases, commissioned by Chancellor Timothy White. Crutchfield — assistant professor in CSULB’s social work department — said she received $150,000 each year for three years for the studies. The third year of the study will focus on model programs, such as the food pantry at CSULB.

The pantry is part of the school’s Student Emergency Intervention Program, which Crutchfield said she considers the most comprehensive in the CSU system.

“There were a number of things that stood out,” Crutchfield said of the first study. “This is an emerging awareness. For some people, it’s surprising.”

She said she couldn’t point to a specific factor that surprised her most.

“I’m just gratified so many are interested and willing to respond,” Crutchfield said. “There are people watching even though they can’t come themselves.”

Crutchfield said the majority of conference attendees will be staff, but she expects a very large student turnout.

“We’ll also have experts in their field all coming together to think about student success,” Crutchfield said. “Our students are presenting as much as they can. They’ve experienced issues none of us have gone through without college… Their chances increase without these issues. More of them can graduate. They’re less focused on their instability.”

Firsthand Experience

One of the presenters is Amber Pittman, who will be on the student panel at Tuesday’s conference and was part of Crutchfield’s focus group. Although she’ll complete her bachelor’s degree in human development at CSULB this fall, the mother of three said she’s been homeless on and off since 2008.

“I think it’s a sensitive issue,” Pittman said. “We need to get other students to talk. There’s nothing to be ashamed of… There are a lot of stigmas around the homeless. Not everyone is lazy, you just get in a rut.”

Pittman said she lost a job and her mother died, prompting her into a life of poor decisions, including drug and alcohol abuse. She soon found herself homeless, but sought shelters, friends’ homes and had to leave her first child with her grandmother temporarily while she got herself together, she said.

This is her fifth year of sobriety, she said, and she’s back on track.

“There are a lot of great shelters and services out there if you look,” Pittman said.

For part of the time, Pittman said the intervention program didn’t exist, but she secured Section 8 (subsidized) housing, food stamps and other help. She eventually finished her associate’s degree from Harbor City College, she said, and was in the midst of transferring to CSULB, when her car broke down. She also had to transfer her Section 8 housing from San Pedro to Long Beach, which was a lengthy process.

That’s when she received $5,200 of unsubsidized Stafford loans to help pay for her car, she said, through CSULB’s emergency program. She said she also received aid from a federal work-study program on campus, providing her money for school.

One of Pittman’s professors told students they’d receive extra credit for donating food to different programs, she said, that’s when she found out about the school’s food pantry. But, she said it was difficult for her to donate in her situation and she didn’t.

“I literally live off financial aid and welfare, CalFresh… That’s how I pay,” Pittman said. “I was blessed to know a lot of professors and have a lot of mentors and friends. It’s all about relationships with people. I think to be at a university takes perseverance.”

The conference will be streamed live at www.calstate.edu/livestream. Registration is full. To be on a wait list, contact Jessica Medina at (559) 278-0866 or jmedina@csufresno.edu.

For more information, visit csufoodandhousingsecurity.weebly.com.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com.

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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