There is no doubt that hunger and homelessness is a reality for some California State University students, and now the school system is attempting to chart the depths of those needs.
The one-year project will probe the scope of food and housing insecurity and make recommendations for how the university can support students in need.
With more than 460,000 students on 23 campus, there is no firm grasp on the numbers of those lacking basic necessities and whether the problem is increasing. It is believed that the actual number of students with no permanent housing is above what is reported.
"Students who experience homelessness are not required to identify themselves, and because of the stigma associated with homelessness, they purposefully hide their circumstances from those who might be able to help them," said Rashida Crutchfield, a Cal State Long Beach social work professor who will conduct the study. "There is a need for systems to be put in place at universities across the nation to find these students."
Students with food and housing instability face special challenges in just finding the means to study, said Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White in a statement.
"Students should be focused on their education -- but this focus is hard to maintain for those who do not know where they will sleep or when they will eat their next meal," he said.
In 2013-14, nearly 340,000 Cal State students received financial aid, officials said. A third of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college and nearly half receive federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income students.
A number of campuses already provide services, such as donor-funded food pantries, clothing and hygiene products for students in need.
The Long Beach campus recently started an emergency intervention program that includes donated meals, short-term housing and emergency funds.
Fresno's Food Security Project, launched in November, includes a student cupboard that had more than 900 visitors in the first 51 days, officials said.