ASUC Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar was featured in a Thanksgiving-themed Teen Vogue article published online Thursday for her work addressing student housing and food insecurity on campus.
The Student Advocate’s Office, or SAO, was one of the first campus organizations committed to addressing students’ basic needs. The organization is currently working on multiple programs focused on basic-needs insecurity. Specifically, the SAO is working to centralize resources for housing-insecure students through the recent hiring of basic needs manager Michelle Thomas.
“We want to consolidate resources into one process, so all the different bodies who work on housing and food insecurity know where to go,” Bandarkar said.
According to SAO Chief of Staff and Director of External Affairs Mateo Montoya, Bandarkar is “spearheading” the development of a homeless-student protocol aimed at preventing students from needing to visit multiple offices to have their needs met.
Montoya said the basic needs manager will act in a similar fashion to staff members at UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center and will streamline the process of obtaining resources for housing-insecure students. Bandarkar served as the student representative on the hiring committee.
SAO is also working on the emergency housing program, which has helped about 25 students and has provided housing to about 15 of them, Bandarkar said.
“The point of the program is to house students facing immediate displacement or (students who) have already been displaced,” Bandarkar said.
In fall 2016, Bandarkar successfully applied for a wellness grant of $55,000 that was used to serve students who face housing insecurity.
“We’re really hoping that with the introduction of a basic needs manager and advance of homeless-student protocol, we can make sure that resources are more available to students,” Montoya said. “We want to make sure that students facing housing insecurity are aware of the resources available to them.”
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay said her office is also bringing awareness to basic-needs issues by supporting legislation at city, state and UC levels.
The SAO is also in the process of drafting a basic-needs referendum that is currently still in its early stages in the Student Fee Referenda Committee within the Division of Student Affairs.
According to Montoya, the bill is intended to fund a student food-assistance program, as well as provide housing funds that will supplement housing security.
Bandarkar said it was “exciting” to see her and the SAO’s work recognized in Teen Vogue. She was quick to acknowledge the collaborative nature of the SAO and said “everything is a team effort.”
“It is really fulfilling and rewarding to see students’ immediate situation change, and for them to get safety and security,” Bandarkar said. “The people at Cal are being really innovative and doing work that hasn’t been done anywhere else.