New grant helps WSU students gain access to food, housing

WSAC grant creates student navigator position; will help students pay for housing in summer

Student+navigators+will+be+trained+experts+in+the+community%2C+helping+establish+relationships+and+teach+students+about+local+organizations.

Student navigators will be trained experts in the community, helping establish relationships and teach students about local organizations.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen reporter

The Washington Student Achievement Council grant will fund initiatives meant to help students deal with food security and housing issues.

“The purpose of the grant is to try to address the fundamental needs and issues students have been facing that may be interfering with their ability to succeed academically,” said Ellen Taylor, vice president of student affairs. “Often we think of food insecurity, but it also may relate to housing or transportation.”

When WSAC approached WSU with a two-year grant, it was an offer the university could not refuse, Taylor said. Jill Creighton, dean of students and vice president of campus life, and Domanic Thomas, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment, are in charge of organizing the grant.

Taylor said the grant will primarily establish a student navigator position similar to a peer consultant to help students who are struggling with paying for housing and food find solutions for these issues.  

Student Development Director Eric Scott said student navigators will be experts in their local community, helping establish relationships and teach students about local organizations.

“Ideally, we should see one on every campus although I don’t know funding-wise if we’ll have enough for that. One for every campus is a good starting point,” Scott said.

Scott said training was an important aspect for future student resource managers due to the potential high-stress level of the job. The most important part of the training was learning to treat students with dignity.

“One thing we did is have our Campus Compact program, which is hosted by Cougar Health. [It] teaches ways to help students in crisis,” he said. “The overall training was based on understanding resources, so a lot of independent research.”

Additionally, the WSAC grant will help students pay for housing during summer vacation, Scott said. Local resources students can use as part of the grant include Council for the Homeless and Clark College in Vancouver.

Scott said certain aspects of the grant are already in effect on the WSU Vancouver campus, like an emergency fund for students facing homelessness and a student resource manager who helps students in times of crisis.

At the moment, the team working on the grant is looking for ways to advertise its resources to students, so they know it is a service available to them, Taylor said. 

“For example, the food pantry we started last year, that certainly got utilized, but since we moved it into the CUB, I think just being visible helps end the stigma,” Taylor said. “The theme there is normalizing [asking for help] and really sort of reminding students that every human needs help at some point in their lives. The more we can start to normalize, that starts to bust into that stigma.”

Scott said more and more students have recently been coming forward to receive assistance from the grant. 

“Once you start shining a light on these things, you’re going to see more people coming forward. I think with this WSAC grant, that’s what we’re going to find,” Scott said. “So I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg.”