by Will Dancer
As part of their social justice mission, Roosevelt University saw a need in students. Not everyone is able to eat every night, have a safe place to sleep or even have access to a hot shower.
Established in Nov. 2017, these resources are organized by the Homelessness and Food Insecurity Taskforce and are aided by student and faculty volunteering, and most recently, through a partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
With this new collaboration, Roosevelt’s Taskforce has secured another reliable source for food and toiletry items such as fresh produce and healthy perishable items like eggs and squash.
Spearheaded by Hilda Rojas-Duarte and Charity Seaborn, the taskforce spawned from Roosevelt’s “students of concern” list provided by the dean of students. Students struggling to manage the obstacles to their success were referred to the Taskforce as candidates for potential assistance.
“There’s pretty standard things like injuries, mental health issues, theft, transition issues, but one thing we saw was students managing finances,” Seaborn said. “And as a result of that, we did a campus-wide survey specifically asking if students identified as having had experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, and we had an overwhelming response.”
For the 2017-2018 academic year, the taskforce housed five students based from referrals alone, but was not openly publicized to the student body. Seeing this prompted the taskforce to reach out and finalize the service as a true and legitimate resource for students.
“We want students just walking through Roosevelt to be aware and able to walk themselves to emergency housing, as opposed to them having to attract the attention of a staff member to get a referral,” Rojas-Duarte said.
“I want students to be able to feel comfortable disclosing that they are in need,” Seaborn added.
Designed more for commuter students, residents of the Wabash Building and University Center are not necessarily excluded from the emergency housing opportunities, but priority is placed on off-campus students.
Since then, they have attended various professional developments and retreats to consider how to help the taskforce grow and have since added a “Career Closet” as a resource for struggling students. Providing professional clothing items for events and job interviews, the “Career Closet” allows students to use and keep the nice ties, slacks, belts and jackets for future use.
One qualification to living in emergency housing is the requirement that every student must fill out an “action plan.” This is a collaboration between the student and a Chicago youth advocate to plan-out the student’s ideas and options for future housing or food resources. The hope being to further assist the student in need and to also help avoid the need for the student to return to emergency housing or stay there for an extended period of time.
Currently not being funded by Roosevelt, the taskforce is reliant on student and faculty volunteers and donations to keep the supplies and money at an adequate level, as well as giving their time to assist the food and toiletry pantry.
“I think it would be awesome to have an operating budget, but where we are financially as a university, I’m not sure what can be done for us at this time,” Seaborn said.
Even with most of the school’s organizations aware of the taskforce’s existence, the timetable for funding is up in the air.