Resources for Students With Basic Needs Insecurity
Many college students face food and housing insecurity. We've compiled a list of resources to help students get the help and support they need.
Updated March 31, 2022
Our Review Network
BestColleges is committed to delivering content that is objective and accurate. We have built a network of industry professionals across healthcare and education to review our content and ensure we are providing the best information to our readers.
With their first-hand industry experience, our reviewers provide an extra step in our editing process. These experts:
- Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
- Provide specific, corrective feedback.
- Identify critical information that writers may have missed.
Our growing Review Network currently consists of professionals in fields like business, nursing, social work, and other subject-specific industries; professionals in higher education areas such as college counseling and financial aid; and anti-bias reviewers.
Reviewers typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for BestColleges as a side project. Our reviewers are members of the Red Ventures Education Freelance Review Network and are paid for their contributions.
Data from The Hope Center shows that around 3 in 5 U.S. college students experience some form of basic needs insecurity, whether that's a lack of food due to insufficient finances, unreliable living arrangements, or even homelessness.
Many students facing food and/or housing insecurity struggle to find the support and guidance they need. The following list includes links to an array of resources, such as nonprofits that advocate for students experiencing homelessness, interactive tools and maps for finding more affordable housing, and government programs and benefits for low-income individuals.
Available across the U.S., this 24/7, toll-free number connects callers to community resource specialists. The line partners with more than 200 agencies, including Goodwill and United Ways. Services include rent and utility assistance, subsidized housing assistance, and access to emergency shelters.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives subsidies to apartment owners, allowing them to offer units at discounted rental rates. HUD offers this nationwide aggregator of subsidized apartment and rental properties. Apartment-seekers can use this tool to locate less expensive housing options and contact managers directly.
People experiencing homelessness are at an elevated risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The HOPWA program provides housing assistance for anyone living with HIV/AIDS, including college students. The federal program also includes chemical dependency and mental health treatment, nutrition counseling, and job placement services.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) works with nearly 500 organizations nationwide to provide services for people experiencing homelessness due to substance use disorders and/or mental health disorders. Services include referrals for housing.
Food and Nutrition Assistance
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP offers funding for food purchases to low-income individuals and those experiencing homelessness. Eligible recipients may purchase any food that will be consumed at home, as well as seeds and plants that will bear food.
A national service, WIC offers grants for food purchases, healthcare referrals, and nutrition education programs to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum people, as well as at-risk children up to age 5. Eligibility is based on family size and net weekly income.
Comprising 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, Feeding America provides meals to people experiencing homelessness and low-income individuals throughout the U.S. Roughly 1 in 7 Americans receives meals from these facilities. The official website helps people locate food banks and pantries in their communities.
Students experiencing homelessness and basic needs insecurity can use this site to locate food banks, soup kitchens, and nonprofits dedicated to providing food assistance. In addition to a nationwide search tool, site visitors can access information about government and nonprofit grocery programs.
Transportation, Childcare, and Living Expenses
Subsidized Bus Passes
Students experiencing homelessness and low-income students may qualify for subsidized or free bus passes through human service agencies in their local communities. These agencies typically receive the bulk of their funding from federal, state, and local government grants. Bus passes can be beneficial for students commuting to campus and recent graduates seeking employment.
This federal program provides assistance to low-income families with working parents who require childcare services. Eligible recipients must be the parents or primary caregivers for children under the age of 13, or children under the age of 19 with disabilities or other conditions that make them incapable of self-care.
Low-income learners and students experiencing homelessness who have young children may qualify for childcare subsidies and assistance services through the Department of Health and Social Services. The Office of Child Care offers this national listing of department contact information for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
A federally funded program, LIHEAP subsidizes monthly energy bills for low-income families. Other services include energy crisis assistance, weatherization, and related home repairs and improvements. LIHEAP is available in all 50 states and U.S. territories.
Many colleges are based in rural communities. Administered by the Department of Agriculture, the Rural Rental Assistance program subsidizes monthly expenses for low-income individuals whose rent exceeds 30% of their monthly income. Applicants can contact their local Rural Development office for more information.
Mental Health and Medical Care
Medicaid and CHIP provide free or discounted health insurance to millions of people across the country, including college students experiencing homelessness and members of low-income families. Candidates must submit an application to the Health Insurance Marketplace. If eligible, their information will be referred to the agency in their state of residence.
This organization provides support to more than 200 public health centers in all 50 states. The website features a national directory of health centers where individuals experiencing homelessness and their families can access treatment and other support services.
ULifeline is a free, confidential hotline that allows college students to receive support and care for mental and emotional health concerns. Created by The Jed Foundation, ULifeline currently operates at more than 1,500 colleges and universities around the country.
Many people experiencing homelessness and basic needs insecurity live with alcoholism and other substance use disorders. SAMHSA maintains a locator tool that connects visitors to behavioral health treatment services in their local communities.
Campus Health Centers
Students with basic needs insecurity are encouraged to reach out to their campus health center if they have any medical or mental health conditions. Many schools offer free or discounted health insurance and low-cost treatment and counseling options to enrolled students.
Federal Benefits and Other Government Programs
The U.S. government offers Social Security disability insurance and benefits to individuals who can't work due to medical conditions. In order to qualify, applicants must be at least 18 and not currently receiving other Social Security benefits.
Benefits for Veterans
Nearly 40,000 U.S. veterans experience homelessness, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The GI Bill® provides educational assistance to veterans, service members, and their dependents. Candidates can access information on programs and benefits using the comparison tool on the Department of Veterans Affairs' website.
Also known as the EITC or EIC, this tax credit targets low-income individuals. In order to be eligible, single individuals with no children must have earned less than $15,820 in 2020 or less than $21,430 in 2021. Refer to the official IRS instructions for more information on whether you qualify for this credit and how to claim it.
Financed with funds from the U.S. Treasury, SSI provides benefits to low-income people who are disabled, blind, or over the age of 65. The monthly payments can be used to pay for food, shelter, clothing, and other essentials. SSI recipients may also qualify for Medicaid assistance to help pay for doctor visits, prescription medications, and other medical services.
The TANF program provides financial assistance to low-income families. In addition to cash payments, services include childcare assistance and job counseling. Candidates must apply for TANF benefits through their state or local welfare office.
Legal Information and Support
This nonprofit offers legal advice and services to more than 3.5 million families and individuals experiencing homelessness. The website features information and resources regarding housing rights, civil rights for people experiencing homelessness, and youth and education rights.
This coalition seeks to connect people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness with activists, advocates, and service providers in their communities. NCH offers resources for groups disproportionately affected by homelessness, such as the elderly, youths, veterans, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many people experiencing basic needs insecurity encounter discrimination when attempting to secure housing. Affected individuals can file an official complaint with HUD at no charge. This page breaks down the step-by-step process for filing and following up on these complaints.
Signed into law in 1987, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act act is a key piece of legislation that outlines the educational rights of children and youth who are experiencing homelessness. This 2017 guide addresses common questions and concerns about the act, including college-related matters like fee waivers and financial aid.
Created in 2011, FRN is the biggest student-led organization aimed at ending hunger and food waste in the U.S. The program can be found on over 150 college campuses. Students can start their own FRN chapter by filling out an online application.
Students who are passionate about helping individuals facing food insecurity can join Challah for Hunger's Campus Hunger Project. The group encourages students to advocate for change by using its digital toolkit and provides a map showing which campuses have Challah for Hunger chapters.
Aiming to end homelessness through education, this nonprofit offers a wealth of resources to educate college students about homelessness and encourage them to take action. The site provides tips for raising awareness and joining advocacy efforts.
Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about financial, legal, and/or health-related issues.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
Feature Image: Leestat / iStock / Getty Images Plus