James Witt taps away on his laptop. Friday August 26, 2016. Witt is one of 186 students waiting to be placed in permanent housing. (The Daily Iowan/Vivian Le)

Guest Opinion: The University of Iowa needs homeless student support

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A significant proportion of college students experience housing insecurity every year.

Wisconsin Hope Lab just released the “largest national assessment of basic-needs security among four-year students,” a large sample survey (43,000 responses) that found 36 percent of university students had experienced housing insecurity in the past year. Although housing insecurity is defined as “a broader set of challenges, such as the inability to pay rent or utilities or the need to move frequently,” which may be difficult for institutions to directly address, the survey also found that a staggering 10 percent of university students had experienced homelessness in the past year. The survey also reported that this is an issue that disproportionately affects students of color.

RELATED: Newby: people have the power to prevent homelessness

Many campuses around the country have begun to address this. In the case of Kennesaw State University, students created the Campus Awareness, Resource, & Empowerment program, which runs the Food Pantry and homeless-support system. It also offers free toiletries for emergency use. Some campuses also keep fraternity and sorority houses open for temporary housing over school breaks. Other campuses collaborate with local shelters, of which Iowa City has more than one.

RELATED: Shelter house takes a step to combat homelessness

The University of Iowa could better serve its housing-challenged student population by following the example set by Kennesaw State: expanding its Food Pantry, guaranteeing feminine-hygiene products, toiletries, and warm winter clothing for emergency use, allowing access to faculty showers, such as in Pappajohn Business Building, and informing students of online resources. Other basic-need steps could include reserving Iowa House rooms or dorm space for temporary student housing, offering meal vouchers to food-insecure students, and offering resident-assistant positions to at-risk students. The UI Student Government could gauge housing insecurity on campus through email surveys.

Students here deserve security and dignity. The UI needs to address student homelessness and become a model university for housing-challenged student support.

— Riley Wilson

UI Class of 2019

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