Sponsor spotlight: Edmonds College’s exemplary work addressing students with food and housing insecurities receives national recognition

Students can choose from a variety of pantry items and fresh foods when they visit the food pantry located at the Triton Student Resource Hub. (Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Food and housing insecurity are real issues many Americans face daily. College students are not immune to these dilemmas, and without aid, many must let go of their academic dreams in order to survive. As colleges work hard to address food and housing insecurities among their students, Edmonds College, located about 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle, Wash., has emerged as a shining example of how best to implement practices that combat this educational obstacle.

In a 2022 Washington Student Experience survey of 39 colleges and universities across Washington state administered by Western Washington University in partnership with the Washington Student Achievement Council, nearly half (49.4%) of the 9,771 responding students indicated that they experience basic needs insecurity. Of the respondents, 34% expressed they had experienced housing insecurities over the last 12 months, including 11% who reported enduring homelessness.

Edmonds College is not unsusceptible to these unsettling trends. Of the 172 Edmonds students that participated in the 2022 study, 44% indicated they experienced basic needs insecurities, 39% indicated they experienced housing insecurities and 13% reported they had been homeless in the past year.

The findings in the Washington survey mirrored similar reports on a national scale. In 2020, The Hope Center at Temple University conducted the #RealCollege Survey and received responses from over 195,000 students from 120 two-year colleges and 72 four-year colleges. The survey found that 48% of the participants reported experiencing housing insecurity, and 14% reported experiencing homelessness. Three out of every five respondents encountered basic needs insecurities, including 39% experiencing food insecurity at two-year institutions.

Leaders at Edmonds initiated measures to help alleviate some of the issues that often interfere with a student’s ability to remain in school by making access to valuable resources readily available and centrally located. Today, thanks partly to a recent report in the Best Practices in Homeless Education Brief Series by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), Edmonds is considered a standard bearer and shining example of how best to support college completion for students experiencing homelessness and food insecurities.

“We were selected to be featured in the NCHE briefing because we have a strong student-centered program,” explained Edmonds Associate Dean for Workforce Funding and Hub Director Charlie Thompson. “We have supported and participated in statewide efforts to address these issues with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) and the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) representing four-year colleges.”

Tackling Basic Living Insecurities

Edmonds opened the Triton Student Resource Hub in the Olympic Building on the north end of campus in January 2020. Billed as a “one-stop center for help when you need it,” the two-story building aims to mitigate stigmas and offer a safe and welcoming environment.

The campus’s food pantry occupies the ground floor, where Edmonds students can pick up free groceries, toiletries, diapers, and more. Above the food pantry are the offices for emergency grant coordinators, Vivian Dang and Sam Johnson, who service only Edmonds students. Etmon Carranza, a 2-1-1/Coordinated Entry Community Resource Advocate, shares the upper floor with Dang and Johnson and plays a crucial role in connecting not only students but also local community members in South Snohomish County with essential support systems such as utility assistance, food, housing, health, child care, after-school programs, elder care, crisis intervention and more.

Edmonds College President Dr. Amit B. Singh

Before the hub opened, students had to submit multiple applications and visit several locations around campus to utilize the food pantry and receive help paying for daily necessities. Now, they can visit one location and fill out one application that covers several grants.

“We opened the Triton Student Resource Hub knowing many students struggle to feed themselves or their families, and financial emergencies arise that must be met for them to remain focused on academics,” said Edmonds President Dr. Amit B. Singh. “The hub has positively impacted the lives of those it has served and helped mitigate some of the challenges that recipients face daily.”

The food pantry is typically open three times a week. All indications are that it is making a big difference in combating campus food insecurity. As of June 2023, 2,795 unique visitors accounted for 18,894 total visits to the food pantry since it opened at the hub in 2020. From July 2022 to June 2023, the food pantry distributed almost 27 tons of food to students, including weekly deliveries of dairy and meat products by the Lynnwood Food Bank.

The college’s support extends beyond the boundaries of the Triton Resource Hub. The Onward Learning Program is busy addressing housing insecurities among Edmonds’ student population through a partnership with Edmonds College Housing and Snohomish County nonprofits Cocoon House and Housing Hope. Edmonds focuses on providing free campus housing for up to 20 students who have aged out of the foster care system and are working to stabilize their lives and build their futures. Edmonds Housing filled all 20 spots for students in the fall of 2023 and 19 during the 2024 winter quarter.

“If one student remains enrolled because of the resources we provide, it is a win,” said Dr. Singh, who serves on the board with Housing Hope. “Our programs are more far-reaching, impacting a larger portion of students and helping them overcome barriers, but there is still more work to do to serve everyone who needs assistance.”

A Low-Barrier Process

Dang and Johnson serve as student resource navigators who filter through the emergency request applications quickly and distribute aid to requesters efficiently. They are the first line of defense on campus in providing emergency funds, and they refer students to Carranza to assist with additional community funding and resources. Together, they work in concert to access community resources to ensure that as many Edmonds students as possible can receive aid to continue their education undisrupted.

The partnership between Edmonds and the 2-1-1 Community Resource Advocate is unique in a campus setting. Edmonds is the only college in Washington with a 2-1-1 advocate on campus. Volunteers of America Western Washington supervises the 2-1-1 coordinator, and Verdant, a health commission that serves South Snohomish County by administering grants to improve health and well-being in the community, funds the position. In addition, Dennis Gibbs, an outreach specialist supporting the college’s Veterans Resource Center, works in the hub once a week.

“The 2-1-1 advocate is well connected to Snohomish County social service agencies, the coordinated entry system for homelessness support, and other off-campus services,” explained Thompson. “So it is helpful to have them right next to us.”

Overall, Dang and Johnson fulfill as many requests for financial assistance as possible until the grant funds are exhausted. Emergency assistance is provided through several grants, including the Washington State Student Emergency Assistance Grant (SEAG), Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) and WorkFirstsupport programs, Edmonds College Foundation Emergency Grant, City of Edmonds College Rescue Grant, and funds from Puget Sound Area Transit Authority (PASTA).

Since the hub’s opening, Edmonds student emergency assistance programs have distributed over 1,000 awards totaling nearly $600,000. If a student needs assistance, they will find the funding source that best fits their situation.

“For the emergency grant, it doesn’t matter how much you make. The only requirement is to be a student at Edmonds College. All you do is apply. We trust the student and don’t require specific documentation,” Dang said. “We make the process as low barrier as possible.”

Making emergency funds more accessible has had a profound impact on students. One recipient provided the following feedback: “I have a family of five, and our income is not low, but we still live paycheck to paycheck. The majority of the time, I do not qualify for anything, and without hesitation, this grant helped me pay for child care, food, gas and housing without limitations or delays.”

Remaining Challenges

Vivian Dang (top) and Charlie Thompson (bottom).

Each quarter, Dang and Johnson have the daunting task of reviewing hundreds of applications. From January 2022 through June 2023, the resource hub received 1,238 unduplicated applications – 703 related to housing needs – requesting $2,237,112 in assistance.

“Our biggest challenge is having enough funding,” said Thompson. “We are trying to meet the needs of far more people than we ever had anticipated. Vivian, Sam and Etmon are wonderful, but providing assistance after the first month of each quarter is very difficult.”

Grant recipients are probably unaware of the caseload that Dang and Johnson manage. Still, follow-up questionnaires indicate overall satisfaction with the system and that the funds have contributed to many students remaining enrolled at Edmonds.

Based on the feedback from the participants’ questionnaires, 90% reported staying in school after receiving financial support. In summer of 2022, 52% of the 49 students surveyed who received emergency awards completed the quarter, and 55% returned fall quarter 2022. During fall quarter 2023, of the 34 students surveyed, 97% who received emergency awards completed the quarter, 88% indicated they felt food secure, and 64% identified that their housing was secure.

One grateful recipient wrote, “The emergency grant has helped ensure my family and I have a roof over our heads. My biggest thing is furthering my education without putting it on the back burner.” Many other testimonials echo similar sentiments.

“Emergency funding grants provided by the Triton Student Resource Hub play a pivotal role in bolstering student success at Edmonds College,” said Vice President for Student Engagement and Support, Dr. Jorge de la Torre. “By reducing financial burdens during times of crisis, these grants not only ensure students’ continued enrollment but also fosters an environment of academic focus and achievement. Such support highlights the institution’s commitment to equitable access to education and the development of its student body.”

While there are many success stories and the resources are making a real difference, the hub could always use more financial support to keep up with increased demands.

“With the cost of living and expenses like rent, utilities, child care, and groceries, I’m not going to fix everything. It’s more like I’m keeping you afloat,” said Dang. “Most of our students are parents and have jobs. The minimum wage just is not enough money for them. I’m trying to help them find resources, but everything’s very expensive at the end of the day.”

Like many program recipients who live paycheck to paycheck, the hub depends on the yearly renewal of grant funding. With more students around the state and country needing funds to remain afloat, the available money for Edmonds is in constant threat. Still, the hub and its community partners remain steadfast in running the program to help students achieve their ultimate goals.

“We know these students are pursuing education to further their careers and find higher-paying jobs,” said Dang. “We’re helping meet a larger goal: allowing recipients to pursue their education uninterrupted, develop professionally, and find a higher-paying job.”

If you want to donate to the Triton Student Resource Hub food pantry or emergency fund program, please contact the Edmonds College Foundation at foundation@edmonds.edu.  To make a donation that assists students experiencing housing insecurities, visit edmonds.edu/project-home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.