RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Approximately 23 percent of students at NC State experienced food insecurity in 2020.

Another 15 percent of students experienced homelessness that same year.

Those startling statistics have been revealed from a university study, and now it’s prompting a lot of change.

There are now two new programs aimed to help students focus on learning, rather than finding a bed to sleep in, or food to eat.

“As we all know, in March 2020, when the country went into lockdown, all of the colleges went into lockdown,” explained Etienne Phillips, a sophomore at NC State.

He was a freshman at Guilford College in Greensboro when the pandemic hit.

“All of a sudden it was like, I don’t have a dining hall to go to, I don’t have a dorm to go back to,” he recalled.

Phillips didn’t have a car, couldn’t find work, and slept on a mattress on the floor of a relative’s house.

“I lived really frugally,” he explained. “I was eating one meal a day.

Phillips took off the next year of school, unable to balance making ends meet and his schoolwork.

He then transferred to NC State.

His story is not uncommon.

“There’s an increasing gap between financial aid and the actual cost of attending college, and so many students that are under-resourced and overburdened, feel the squeeze of that gap,” said Mary Haskett.

Haskett is a psychology professor at NC State. She and a group of researchers at the university have studied the increasing number of students struggling to survive while getting their degrees.

“We conducted the first study in 2017 and found that almost 10 percent of our students had experienced homelessness,” explained Haskett. “A lot of people are surprised. You don’t think of college students as experiencing homelessness, but it’s actually a significant concern.”

Now, university leaders are working to help these students.

There are two new programs aimed at getting resources to those who need assistance.

One is the HOST program. “[Housing Options for Students Today] is the first program that we’re aware of, specifically for college students. Members of our community are going to open their homes to students who need a temporary safe and affirming spot to land, while we work with those students to get more permanent housing,” said Haskett.

The other program will be a partnership between the City of Raleigh and the National League of Cities.
“We’re going to have a student advisory board that we’re going to bring together in an online hub and all of the existing resources so that students will have a single portal to identify currently existing resources,” added Haskett. “Then, we’ll be making some long-range plans.”

Haskett hopes these future plans will help students, like Phillips, stay on track with their education.

“If I knew about this program and it was up and available a year ago, I might not have needed to take the last year off of school, and I would have tried to just make enough money to get food,” added Phillips.

The HOST program is set to launch in the spring semester.

The partnership with the National League of Cities runs through August 2022, with some other help through 2023. 

It includes collaboration with 50 different campus departments and more than 30 community groups.

CBS17 is told they’re still in the planning stages of how this will work.