Basic Needs Center offers specialized housing assistance for at-risk students

Aura Barrera/Staff

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The Basic Needs Center opened its doors to the campus community Monday, making it the first center on campus to offer a wide variety of resource assistance programs to students.

Located on the lower level of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, the Basic Needs Center will offer services to assist students with food security, housing security, financial security, crisis resolution, mental and emotional wellness, safety and accessibility.

“The center is opening now due to the joint advocacy of the ASUC and our Basic Needs Committee to secure a space in our MLK Student Union,” said campus alumnus and Basic Needs Security Committee chair Ruben Canedo in an email. “It has been six years of research, prevention interventions, sustainability efforts, and advocacy to open our Basic Needs Center.”

According to Canedo, the Basic Needs Center is aiming to scale its baseline of 5,000 students to serve the 13,000 to 15,000 students projected to need the center’s support. Canedo added that they are working to secure funding for the center.

In addition to Canedo, the center will be co-led by three other staff members: Basic Needs Manager Kiyoko Thomas, Business Management and Purchasing Manager Diana Barajas and Outreach and Food Manager Meg Prier. Thomas will also serve as the primary contact for students struggling with housing.

“The housing crisis in Berkeley and the larger Bay Area is something that there is not a simple solution for and impacts the larger UC Berkeley community,” Thomas said. “Part of my role is to provide support to students who are homeless or at risk of losing housing, and there aren’t always resources available for every student who is in need.”

In order to enable students who are at risk of homelessness, Thomas helps coordinate specialized support for students based on the care reports she receives from community faculty and staff.

To access the services provided at the center, students will need to schedule a meeting online through the Basic Needs Center website, according to Thomas. Students will also be able to use the center’s drop-in hours.

“There is a lot of care coordination to get a student specialized support,” Thomas said. “My job is to make sure there’s a clear understanding of what these resources are and making sure students are connected to those resources.”

According to Thomas, students facing housing challenges will be referred to programs such as the Housing Security Deposit Award Fund, the emergency housing program and the Winter Break Housing Program. The center will co-locate off-campus partners in the center’s community office.

Among these partners is the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, which will offer free drop-in counseling for campus students, faculty and staff. Every Wednesday afternoon, the board will address issues such as increases in rent, subtenant issues, eviction concerns and other rental housing concerns.

CalFresh, a program that provides food assistance for low-income individuals, will also be hosting application sessions at the Basic Needs Center as well as drop-in hours to help students fill out applications.

Students who have had their CalFresh benefits denied or delayed will also be able to attend sessions to assist them with their needs.

“I am also very excited to expand our case management services and work directly with students who need support navigating food, housing and financial resources both on and off campus,” said Thomas. “I feel honored and humbled to be in this role as there have been many staff, students and administrators who have worked tirelessly for the past six years to get where we are now.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ClaraRodas10.