Hunger or housing problems hit two thirds of students at City Colleges: report

The report shines a light on the financial struggles community college students face in Chicago.

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Students take advantage of a food pantry at Harold Washington College in May, 2019.

Students take advantage a food pantry at Harold Washington College in May, 2019.

Alyssa Schukar/Greater Chicago Food Depository

Nearly two of three students enrolled at the City Colleges of Chicago were either homeless or struggled with food and housing insecurity during the previous year, according to a report to be released Thursday.

The report — prepared by researchers at The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia — is based off an electronic survey taken by 3,000 students in 2018.

During the 30 days preceding the survey, 40% of students said they ran out of food before they could afford to buy more. A third said they either skipped meals or ate less than they should have at least once because they didn’t have enough money.


The Hope Center

In the year prior to the survey, 54% of students reported experiencing housing insecurity, defined as having trouble paying for rent and utilities or being forced to move frequently. Some 15% of students also reported experiencing homelessness.

Measuring the intersection of the problems, the report found that 64% of the students suffered from either food or housing insecurity or homelessness over the course of the previous year.

Chancellor Juan Salgado said the report highlights the need to keep food pantries open at all seven colleges and to help connect struggling students with city services.

“We’re not going to become a housing provider, but we can decide to make sure our students are aware of these resources and be a little bit of a matchmaker,” he said.


The Hope Center

The report also showed students who were unable to meet their basic needs worked more hours a week than those who did.

Half of students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity or housing insecurity reported working at least 21 hours a week. Meanwhile, nearly 60% of students who didn’t face these stressors reported either not working at all or clocking in less than 20 hours a week.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the folks working the most are struggling the most,” Salgado said. “Many our students are largely on their own or have to support their families — versus being supported by their families.”


The Hope Center

Christine Baker-Smith, managing director of The Hope Center and one of the authors of the report, said the data indicate a need to raise the minimum wage.

“For the most part, the type of employer that can accommodate the schedule of a college student are those that pay minimum wage,” she said. “The minimum wage does not meet the needs of a person trying to live a healthy life.”

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.

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