‘It feels like justice and love’: UC Berkeley opens Basic Needs Center in student union

An office inside of a building has colorful letters on the walls spelling "welcome".
Isabella Ko/Staff

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The UC Berkeley Basic Needs Center officially opened its doors Monday to students without access to certain resources, aggregating resource-assistance programs into one area for the first time in campus history.

The center, located on the lower level of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, houses programs in seven major areas of focus: food security, housing security, financial security, crisis resolution, mental and emotional wellness, safety and accessibility — as well as collaborates with the community and campus departments.

The Basic Needs Center is also currently in partnership with four organizations, including Bears for Financial Success — a campus program that provides peer-to-peer financial consulting — and the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

“We know that until ideological and institutional systems of inequality and oppression (cease) to exist, students will continue to struggle with their basic needs,” campus alumnus and Basic Needs Security Committee Chair Ruben E. Canedo said. “Until poverty and intersectional oppression are resolved, our campus will need our Basic Needs Center to be there for our community.”

According to Canedo, the Basic Needs Center is the result of a six-year process and joint partnership between the ASUC and the Basic Needs Committee, which is composed of alumni and students from many fields of study.

Though basic needs assistance programs have existed on campus in the past, the Basic Needs Center is unique due to its combination of resources in a single location and the variation of programs coexisting under one roof.

“It feels like justice and love,” Canedo said in an email. “Justice for the generations of students who have experience(d) poverty, hunger, and homelessness through their university experience. Love by the generations of students, staff, faculty, administrators, and community that united to launch our Basic Needs Center.”

The center is estimated to assist a baseline of about 5,000 students this semester. Canedo added that the center’s goal during the next few years is to increase the number of students served to between 13,000 and 15,000.

According to Basic Needs manager Kiyoko Thomas, studies show that 36 percent of undergraduate students experience a lack of basic resources during their academic careers. She said she hopes to “minimize the navigation” of fulfilling basic needs for these students.

Contractually, the Basic Needs Center will be in the student union for at least the next five years, Canedo said. He added that every year, the Basic Needs Committee plans to conduct research to better evaluate its impact on the Berkeley community and see how it can improve.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as of its grand opening. Thomas added that the hours are expected to fluctuate as student needs are evaluated and new programs are implemented.

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC ‏.