UC Berkeley launches first-of-its-kind Basic Needs Center

University of California (UC), Berkeley, this week opened a “one-stop shop” to assist and support students experiencing food, housing, and financial insecurity and those in need of mental health, wellness, crisis resolution, safety, and accessibility services, The Daily Californian reports. Many institutions have launched food pantries and offices dedicated to student support, but UC Berkeley says the combination of co-located resources makes its nearly 3,000-square-foot Basic Needs Center “the first of its kind in the UC system and nationwide.”

The launch of Berkeley’s new center comes right on the heels of a national conference organized by student success nonprofit Achieving the Dream, where attendees called for colleges to better address basic needs insecurity.

Eliminating ‘resource-seeking exhaustion’

Located on the lower level of UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, the Basic Needs Center includes a “community office,” home to representatives from local agencies such as the Alameda County Community Food Bank and the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. The goal is to eliminate the discouragement and “resource-seeking exhaustion” that students experience when searching out and stitching together off-campus social services. “We couldn’t and can’t accept that services at hand are the only ones available, said Kiyoko Thomas, the center’s case and operations manager. “We’re making sure no student goes unserved.”

In particular, center leaders will work to help food-insecure students access CalFresh federal nutrition benefits—by hosting applications sessions; conducting outreach; offering a CalFresh appeals clinic; and facilitating face-to-face eligibility interviews, known to produce the highest application approval rates. Approximately 48 percent and 25 percent of Berkeley’s undergraduate and graduate students, respectively, are food-insecure; an estimated 10,000 students are eligible to receive CalFresh benefits.

Offering comprehensive resources

The center also will offer case management provided by a licensed clinical social worker, a limitless food pantry for students and staff, a community kitchen for preparing meals, and ample gathering spaces. Students with basic needs insecurity often face “more than one insecurity crisis,” said Vikrem Padda, the center’s CalFresh coordinator, adding that students are becoming “more open about talking about their struggles and are more willing to come visit us.”

Launching the Basic Needs Center

Six years in the making, the center came to fruition through close collaboration among students, staff, and off-campus partners. It has a $1.2 million budget and launched with funding from California’s Hunger Free College Campuses initiatives. UC Berkeley expects the center will serve approximately 5,000 students this academic year and, eventually, 13,000-15,000 students annually with funding from partnerships, the UC Office of the President, state funding, student fees, and philanthropic support.

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