Last year College of the Redwoods organized an on-campus food pantry at the Eureka campus to provide students who may experience food insecurity a way to get fresh food. The school has also started a housing scholarship program for students in needs as well. (CR — contributed)
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The College of the Redwoods has established a new scholarship program aimed at providing housing for students who are facing homelessness or on the brink.

“We have recognized a growing trend and a growing population of students who face housing and food insecurity issues and we had more than 100 students self-identify as homeless on their applications for school,” said Joe Hash, vice president of student development. “Students have brought the issue to our attention and we have a lot of students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity so we started to taking steps to mitigate these issues.”

The scholarship program was introduced in November after it was approved by the college’s board of trustees and, along with the housing scholarship, the school has also developed a meal plan to ensure students get proper meals at the CR cafeteria.

The school will provide students who need housing a semester-long scholarship that will allow them to stay in the dorms and, if needed, they can extend that scholarship over two semesters and even into the summer when there are more dorm rooms available.

The students must work part-time, contribute $50 a month toward the cost of their dorm room in order to build a rental history, maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average and take a full load of classes, a minimum of 12 credits, to be eligible.

The overall goal is to provide the students with the tools needed form them to transition into off-campus housing as soon as they are capable. Students will also meet with a financial literacy specialist as part of the program. The goal is to provide a hand up, not a handout, Hash said.

“If you’re a local student, you will get more points on the application process,” Hash said. “We won’t eliminate students from out of the area, but the focus in on local students. It’s an issue that is definitely growing and we have worked with the Humboldt County Office of Education and they have identified an untold number of students who are either couch-surfing or without a place to live and we expect the number to increase, not decrease.”

Hash said the school decided to make available eight single dorm rooms each semester for the program and that will include summer for a total of 24 rooms available for the year. Along with a dorm room, students can eat at the cafeteria and they can also get fresh food from the food pantry that was established on the Eureka main campus last year.

“We have students not only couch-surfing, but they are living in their cars or camping in the woods behind our college,” CR President and Superintendent Keith Snow-Flamer said in a statement. “They have shown an amazing resiliency to stay in school and earn their education, but we have to realize how vulnerable they are if they can’t find shelter or food. We need to do more.”

Students can also take advantage of laundry facilities on campus as well as shower facilities. Hash said students concerned about hygiene don’t come to class — so addressing those issues step by step can help them maintain their dignity.

CR has already begun fundraising efforts with a goal of raising the $48,000 it will take to fund the scholarship program and more events will be held in the coming months.

“St. Joseph Health provided us with a $10,000 care for the poor grant and they are funding a pilot program for the spring that will allow us to bring five students onto campus for the semester,” Hash said. “We have applied for a number of other grants and (Thursday) we had a fundraiser in Fortuna. We are making the circuit of Rotary clubs and service clubs and we are just ramping up. We have high hopes.”

The St. Joseph grant to CR was one of 24 grants St. Joseph Health, Humboldt County Community Benefit Committee awarded in November to local nonprofits organizations throughout the county serving poor and vulnerable individuals.

“The areas in which we grant funds align with our community health needs assessment priorities,” said Martha Shanahan, area director of the St. Joseph Health community benefit committee. “Those priorities are housing, mental wellness, substance abuse, food and economic security.”

The school provides the food pantry with produce grown at its Shively farm and CR has established food pantries at sites in Crescent City and Hoopa. The college has also hired a housing liaison to assist students in finding off-campus housing.

“All of our trustees believe this is a highly valuable program. We have the opportunity to support students facing the greatest challenges and help them stay in college and finish their education,” said Carol Mathews, president of the board of trustees for College of the Redwoods. “Not only is this critical for these students‘ futures, the program will positively impact the futures of their families and communities.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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