Next week, many of us will gather around the table with our families and friends to celebrate a holiday largely centered on food. But such celebrations will likely be absent for individuals facing hunger and homelessness—issues that are a reality for many throughout the year.
To draw awareness to these issues, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness sponsor Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week each November, shining light on the troubling statistics surrounding these topics nationwide and championing solutions.
And at Case Western Reserve University, many faculty, staff and students make it their mission to do the same. With over 230,000 people facing food insecurity in Cuyahoga County alone (Greater Cleveland Food Bank, 2017), members of the campus community work to help lessen the burden through advocacy, volunteerism and research.
Get to know some of the university’s organizations and projects you can get involved with to help combat hunger and homelessness, and learn about resources for Case Western Reserve students who may be experiencing these issues firsthand.
Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development
Addressing homelessness and hunger takes on many forms at Case Western Reserve, including through research. At the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, investigators seek to build a body of data that can help drive more meaningful public policy.
“As an often invisible population, homeless youth are particularly important to understand,” said Robert Fischer, co-director of the center and an associate professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. “If we can intervene effectively with these young people it is possible to keep them from experiencing ongoing challenges with stable housing. This will result in more success for them in their lives and reduce the need for social system responses later on at often greater cost.”
To accomplish this mission, the center’s team works on a variety of studies, including one recently published with support from the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
Titled “Public Assistance and Homeless Shelter Trajectories” and published by The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the research shed light on how the use of public assistance by those experiencing homelessness could help prevent future homelessness. This work was conducted by Francisca García-Cobián Richter, research assistant professor; Claudia Coulton, the Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Research & Social Change and Distinguished University Professor; Fischer; and Nina Lalich, a former analyst and programmer at the center.
Now, the team and others at the center are engaging in research to gather a more accurate picture of youth homelessness through data in a project supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Center for Civic Engagement and Learning
The Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL) regularly provides students with opportunities to serve members of the nearby community who are experiencing hunger and homelessness. Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cleveland Food Bank was a site for the CCEL Serves Program, which allowed students to volunteer at the food bank sorting, preparing, boxing and repacking food for distribution through a flexible commitment.
While the pandemic made such opportunities a challenge to continue, the center’s work with the food bank didn’t end there. Over three weeks in fall 2020, students prepared 2,000 face mask packages to donate to the food bank’s partner organizations.
This semester, the center helped facilitate a pop-up opportunity for students to put the finishing touches on new wooden “pods” at the Lakeside Men’s Shelter.
Want to volunteer with CCEL? Check out the opportunities.
Staff members at Sears think[box] teamed up with a local architect to create “shelter pods” for the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which provides shelter for those experiencing homelessness in Northeast Ohio.
Architect Sai Sinbondit designed small modular shelters that would allow for more private and secure spaces that could also reduce COVID-19 spread. Sears think[box] joined the effort to offer design and manufacturing direction, in addition to the technology to complete the project.
“I think that cultivating community engagement speaks directly to the mission here at think[box],” said Misha Villanueva, the fabrication floor manager who worked with Sinbondit. “As part of that engagement I’m excited to let people know about the resources that are available to them as a community.”
Part of the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry, Labre is a student-run homeless outreach ministry whose members prepare and deliver food to those experiencing homelessness in Cleveland. Each Monday, two members of the group of about 10 make and package the meals—using donations from organizations at Holy Rosary Church—and about six students gather into a CCEL van to drive around the city, meeting those in need where they are.
But the experience is more than just an opportunity to combat hunger—it is designed to build relationships with the individuals the students meet on their weekly runs.
“The meals we serve provide a bridge to a friendship with our brothers and sisters on the streets. We hope to grow these relationships through conversation when we stop to provide a meal to people,” shared co-presidents Jonathan Ockunzzi and Ryan Murray.
Conversations vary but focus on topics including Cleveland sports, the weather and childhood memories. Importantly, the students learn about the experiences of those they serve.
In addition to meals, Labre provides clothes and toiletries. Ockunzzi and Murray recalled one instance in which a visibly cold woman asked if they had a coat they could share. While they did not have one in the woman’s size, a volunteer—who has since gone on to graduate—took the coat off her own back and gave it to the woman so she could have added warmth.
“This was the fullest embodiment of service and self-sacrifice for the good of another,” Ockunzzi and Murray said.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt to Labre’s work, they have resumed operations with physical distancing, masking, sanitizing and other protocols.
While the group’s work is rooted in faith, they serve and welcome all regardless of religious status.
Interested in joining Labre’s mission? Email email@example.com.
On-campus resources for students
Students experiencing homelessness are not alone. According to the Hope Center’s National #RealCollege survey, up to 46% of college students experience some form of housing insecurity. If you need immediate assistance, contact the United Way 2-1-1 Help Center.
Support for those facing food insecurity is available through a number of resources on campus and in the local community. Review food insecurity resources, including the Physical Resource Center and food pantries at Case Western Reserve.