The Portland State Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative released its findings on Sept. 23 from a recent study which found that basic needs insecurity is widespread among students and employees at PSU, especially among BIPOC and other marginalized community members.
Basic needs insecurities examined in the study include houselessness, housing insecurity and food insecurity. The study defined homelessness as lacking fixed, adequate nighttime housing, which includes staying with friends or family—or couchsurfing—out of necessity; housing insecurity was defined as issues involving housing livability, such as cost, safety, quality and consistency of housing; food insecurity was defined as uncertain and limited access to food because of social and economic conditions.
“Homelessness and housing insecurity can take so many different forms,” said HRAC Director Greg Townley at a Sept. 24 press conference. “We tend to have a stereotype for who experiences homelessness, which doesn’t necessarily fit the typical mold of a college student and certainly not that of a college professor. This makes us overlook warning signs in our students and our colleagues, and they also make them discount their own risk for housing insecurity and homelessness.”
Compared to other four-year-institutions surveyed in the 2019 Hope Center study, rates of basic needs insecurity among students are higher than average at PSU. However, HRAC Director Greg Townley said the results from the study were more or less what HRAC researchers expected. The study is the first of its kind to survey university employees, so a comparison does not yet exist.
“We knew anecdotally that many members of our campus community struggled with stable housing and enough food to eat,” said PSU President Stephen Percy at the press conference, “but this survey shows that those problems are much more widespread and more challenging than we thought, perhaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The study was conducted via a survey sent out to the campus community during fall term of 2019. The responses reflect 15% of the student body—3,511 students— and 28.3% of employees—1,017 staff. Additionally, a follow-up survey was conducted in early 2020 to assess basic needs insecurity among students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we have any hope of helping Portland and the region more broadly address homelessness, we must address it within our own campus community,” Townley stated in a press release. “The study was designed to provide a foundation for [PSU] to work from in determining how to best address homelessness, housing insecurity and food insecurity among students and employees.”
44.6% experienced housing insecurity in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.
16.1% experienced houselessness in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.
47% experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.
More than 60% or respondents had experienced one or more forms of basic needs insecurity in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.
According to the study, BIPOC students experienced particularly high rates of basic needs insecurity.
Native American students were nearly twice as likely as white students to experience houselessness, and experienced the highest rate of food insecurity at 66.4%.
More than a fifth of Black, Middle Eastern, North African, multiracial and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students experienced houselessness in the 12 months prior to completing the survey; more than half experienced housing insecurity.
22.7% experienced housing insecurity in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.
5.6% experienced houselessness in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.
16.5% experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.
According to the study, BIPOC employees experienced high rates of basic needs insecurity.
Black employees were more than twice as likely as white employees to experience housing insecurity, houselessness and or food insecurity.
Adjunct faculty—who comprise 47% of faculty at PSU, according to the PSU Faculty Association—-were twice as likely to experience housing insecurity and three times as likely to experience food insecurity as their full-time counterparts.
Covid-19 Follow-up Survey:
A follow-up survey of 166 students was conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to assess basic needs insecurity during the pandemic. However, due to the substantial difference in sample sizes, the follow-up survey should not be compared with the initial survey.
64.5% experienced housing insecurity during the pandemic.
20.5% experienced houselessness during the pandemic.
55.4% experienced food insecurity during the pandemic.
BIPOC students experienced higher rates of basic needs insecurity during the pandemic than white students.
Other Marginalized Groups on Campus:
According to the initial study: “In addition to BIPOC students and employees, LGBTQ+ students and employees also reported high rates of housing insecurity, homelessness and food insecurity, as did students and employees with disabilities and medical conditions. Transfer students, first generation students and current or former foster youth also reported high rates of basic needs insecurity.”
The findings from the study were released shortly after the PSU Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition by 5% on June 18. The initial survey—which was conducted prior to the increase in tuition—found that 65% of students reported being worried about paying for school. The follow-up survey found that over a third of surveyed students were laid-off or fired from their jobs due to the pandemic, and of those who lost their jobs, 90% experienced housing insecurity, houselessness and or food insecurity.
At the Sept. 24 press conference, HRAC researchers urged PSU administrators to work with student and employee groups to find solutions to widespread basic needs insecurity, especially among communities expeirienceing discrimination and racism. Because of the ongoing pandemic and wildfires, the researchers argued, the need to find solutions is all the more urgent.
“What we really envision is a process where-by campus community groups are engaged in dialogue around what the needs and wishes for types of programs and policies would be,” Townley said.
As stated in the report: “We hope the findings of this report will serve as a starting point for campus dialogue, planning, and actions as we work together to support students and employees in meeting their basic needs for food and housing.”
Here is a list of resources included in the study for students and employees experiencing basic needs insecurity. Additional information about most of these resources can be found at pdx.edu/student-affairs/
- Financial hardship grants and loans are available to all PSU students through the Student Accounts Office, the Financial Wellness Center and Student Affairs, depending on available funding and number of applications.
- The PSU Committee for Improving Student Food Security offers a free food market on the second Monday of every month in partnership with the Oregon Food Bank and distributes meal vouchers to students.
- SNAP enrollment assistance is provided by trained staff and volunteers at a number of different programs and offices across campus.
- The student-run PSU Food Pantry offers free food to PSU students.
- A weekly PSU Farmers Market—open every Saturday between 8:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.—accepts SNAP cards.
Housing and Houselessness:
- Student Legal Services provides assistance to resolve landlord/tenant issues affecting students.
- A 24-hour shelter for students experiencing houselessness, hosted by a local faith organization, is in the preliminary planning stages.
- The PSU Student Housing Assistance Program Pilot, in partnership with College Housing NW, provides a 50% rent subsidy to students experiencing or at immediate risk of houselessness.
- Shower facilities are available in the Student Recreation Center on a key card access basis.
- The Office of the Dean of Student Life provides a set of essential services for students, with a new Basic Needs Hub recently launched to provide coordinated service access and delivery.
- The CARE Team provides case management and support to students experiencing a crisis.
- A SNAP Employment and Training program provides case management and pays qualified expenses to support SNAP-eligible students in job training, placement, and retention.
- Resource Centers on campus provide wraparound supports and services tailored to the needs of different groups of PSU students, including advising, resources and service connections to assist with basic needs.