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UAA student researchers work to address food and housing insecurity

Published: Apr. 4, 2021 at 8:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The “college struggle” is something most students have come to accept, but for some, it’s more than just warming countless cups of instant noodles while catching up on homework each night. A group of students at the University of Alaska Anchorage is working to address the issue of food and housing insecurity on campus.

A study conducted by UAA researchers Kathi Trawver and Travis Hedwig found that around 30-40% of students at UAA are facing some form of food or housing insecurity, said Dr. Sally Carraher, an associate professor at UAA. About 10% reported experiencing full homelessness, she said.

“These are students. They are showing up to classes, they are trying to get through their studies and at the same time, don’t have a stable place to live,” Carraher said. “There’s a small number of students using the shelter system in town, students sometimes sleeping in their cars.”

One of Dr. Carraher’s anthropology classes is conducting a new study aimed at collecting data about the food and housing insecurity issue on campus, and then using that data to create a comprehensive support network across all campuses and additional resources for students that struggle with these issues.

UAA senior Shara Kompkoff is helping conduct the study with eight other classmates. It’s an important cause to her because as a student, she has felt a form of housing insecurity firsthand.

“I actually had experienced some of this as a child as well,” Kompkoff said. “My mom and I actually had to live in a shelter for a while, a women and children shelter, so I know what it’s like as a child and as an adult.”

Now Kompkoff wants to help others by raising awareness of resources available, and helping create new ones for those who need it through this project. This year the class is partnered with the UAA Hunger and Homelessness Support Network.

“We’re hoping that by doing this study we can get enough data to really improve our communication and outreach strategies with Hunger and Homelessness Support Network, to be able to have some information that we can use to write future grants, and to help develop sustainable resources on campus to help students with food and housing security,” Carraher said.

It’s also an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding homelessness and food insecurity, because working through adversity to get an education is nothing to be ashamed of.

“I want people to know it’s not your fault, and there is help available on campus,” Kompkoff said. “We’re trying to get you help, so don’t be afraid to use it.”

The study is being conducted via anonymous survey and is open to all university students aged 18 and older at any of UAA’s campuses and satellite campuses in Anchorage, Mat-Su, the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak, and the Prince William Sound.

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