CSU East Bay Students Receive H.O.P.E. During Remote Learning

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Student workers at HOPE. (Left to right) Nikita Bangera, Lillian Mworia and Carrissa Chavez. (Julia McEvoy/KQED)

Lilian Mworia is a 22-year-old international student from Kenya who attends California State University, East Bay. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, not only did she lose access to in-person classes, she lost her source of income: her on campus job. She says she had no other choice but to live in her car for three months.

Mworia is in her final year at CSU East Bay. She was living with relatives before the pandemic, but once March arrived she wasn’t able to secure temporary housing or financial assistance. It wasn’t until she missed an exam that one of her professors told her about the school’s Pioneers for H.O.P.E. program, which aims to help the campus’ most-at-risk students facing homelessness, food insecurity and other dire situations to meet their basic needs.

Due to the pandemic, some college students have had to confront a huge set of challenges. Schools are not only a place for education — for many, they’re a place of safety, food and a source of speedy internet access. To make matters worse, many students who had on-campus jobs have now lost them, making it harder to fulfill their basic needs.

California’s worsening problem of student homelessness began long before the pandemic. As noted in a wide-ranging UCLA report released this fall titled “Dismantling Student Homelessness in California,” 11% of all CSU students across the state experienced homelessness in the 2018-2019 school year. A larger number of students who identified as Black or Latinx experience homelessness compared to other racial groups.

The report also found that although food insecurity and homelessness amongst students has been an issue for the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the problem:  “Families that were already on the brink of financial and housing insecurity may become eligible for homelessness assistance due to COVID-19,” the report states.

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When the pandemic hit, unemployment rates skyrocketed. Due to shelter in place, Chancellor Timothy White ensured that CSU’s student employee income was protected, but only through April 5, 2020.

Mworia said that the school gave students around $300 per month for about three months. However, as an international student, Mworia’s employment options are even more limited because she doesn’t qualify for an off-campus job due to her visa status.

“I pay so much money for school fees that nobody was willing to fight for me — as if I'm not human,” Mworia said. “That was very disturbing. So yeah, I feel like they [CSU-East Bay] could have done better.”

After feeling financial strain and hardship, Mworia reached out to the international programs office to see if they had any resources that would help her out. “I was just told there's nothing they can do for me,” Mworia said, despite explaining that she was homeless in an email.

This is where CSU East Bay’s Pioneers for H.O.P.E (Helping Our Pioneers Excel) program came in. Established in 2016, the program helps students find adequate housing, meals, and schedules food pantries for people to attend once a week with the exception of the holidays.

The program typically helps a handful of students each month. But that’s increased over the course of the pandemic.

In the 2019-2020 school year, the overall population of Cal State East Bay was 14,705 — and the program has helped roughly 10,000 students between March and May of 2020, according to Darice Ingram, the program coordinator.

Darice Ingram, program coordinator for the H.O.P.E. program at CSU East Bay. (Julia McEvoy/KQED)

Ingram has been in her position with H.O.P.E. for two years. She noticed that the coronavirus pandemic created an influx of people applying to food pantries and emergency assistance and explained that the program focuses on assisting students, from temporary housing and paying bills to hosting pop-up food pantries once a week.

Ingram says that students are in charge of choosing what goes in their grocery bags, which can help eliminate food waste. The staff then assembles food bags and distributes them, following social distancing guidelines.

“We have fresh fruits and vegetables. We try to make it fun, do little recipes and have our students talk about how easy it is,” Ingram said.

Pioneers for H.O.P.E gives aid to all students, unlike CalFresh, a federal food benefits program operated by the California Department of Social Services, for which only certain people qualify.

Euridice Pamela Sanchez, CSU East Bay’s current student body president, said that the pandemic prompted her to make food at home so that she does not expose herself to the virus. “I'm excited because there's a lot of free food,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez has to prioritize the resources available to her because she is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also known as a Dreamer, which granted legal status to young U.S. immigrant residents who were brought by their parents.

DACA recipients are not eligible for CalFresh programs. “I know Pioneers for H.O.P.E., they don't require any citizenship requirements and so I really try to promote it for Dreamers,” Sanchez said.

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Ingram explained that many students who moved back in with their families have unexpectedly had to revert their lives. With everyone sheltering in place at home and with many layoffs, families are now struggling with having food on the table and adequate internet access.

Ingram said that because of this issue, H.O.P.E. helps students on the Hayward campus, but they also connect students to external resources.

For Mworia, the program has stabilized her living situation, provided food and basic needs as well as offered her a job with H.O.P.E. “They have been nothing but a blessing for me,” Mworia said.

Resources:

Additional resources available for students and contactless food distribution at the Cal State East Bay campus.

Alameda County Community Food Bank also offers students and community members contactless meals as well as  grocery pick up at the distribution center in Oakland.

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano offers contactless meal packages in multiple locations throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties.

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For more information on the specific resources Cal State East Bay, offers as well as other community resources please visit the Hope resources page.