Wayne State received a $200,000 grant from the McGregor Fund in June to provide services for students struggling with homelessness. A plan is now in place to use a portion of the funds for a campus food pantry.
A WSU study conducted by doctoral psychology student Corissa Carlson and psychology professor Paul Toro, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, found 50 students confirming that they were either homeless or living in a precarious housing situation – temporary housing or “couch surfing.”
“Housing experiences were also found to impact students’ mental and physical health,” according to a WSU press release. “Precariously housed and homeless students reported significantly more stressful events over the six months prior to their interview, as well as more mental health problems over the previous two weeks. They also reported more instances of health symptoms such as cold, flu and body aches.”
Dean of Students David Strauss said addressing students' non-academic basic needs is imperative, because if a student lacks housing and/or access to food, they cannot be successful in the classroom.
“Wayne State was very fortunate to have the interest and support of the McGregor Fund,” Strauss said. “The McGregor Fund leadership is very interested in helping Wayne State students achieve academic success, and wanted to support this by helping us develop resources to assist our students with their basic needs.”
Grant Manager and Counseling and Psychological Sevices Counselor Sara Byczek said the grant’s purpose was to develop a plan to clarify the scope of need, existing student resources and additional resources required, as well as to identify unique partnerships that could be used to solve problems of student need related to homelessness.
“I am the grant manager,” she said. “This means the grant ‘bought out’ half my work time so I am able to focus on investigating the needs of students in precariously housed or homeless situations and developing proposed connections and programming to address these needs based on best practices.”
Byczek said understanding homelessness and a lack of basic needs includes addressing food insecurity.
“The planning process, which is funded by the grant, has allowed us to identify how to fill gaps and enrich and connect services,” she said. “One of these gaps that were identified was the lack of a food pantry on campus.”
Byczek said her team is still in the planning stage, so they have visited several Michigan universities’ food pantries and attended a conference on food pantries held Oct. 14.
“Our goal is to take this information we have learned and create a model that we believe will best serve WSU students,” she said.
Byczek said their projected timeline sees a grand opening of the food pantry coming in fall 2017, but the date may still shift. In accordance with the grant requirements, she said a complete financial plan for the pantry and other needed services is due January 2017. After submission, the financial plan will be reviewed and discussed before implementation is confirmed.
The empty commercial space located across the Faculty and Administration Building and adjacent to Dunkin’ Donuts is currently being eyed as the possible location of the food pantry along with a Student Advocacy Office, which Byczek said would assist students in meeting other needs.
Aside from the campus food pantry, the grant money will also be allocated to support WSU’s Transition to Independence and HIGH Programs.