The UC Santa Barbara Rapid Rehousing team and the MultiCultural Center hosted a housing resources event with a presentation, interview and public forum on Nov. 16 in the MultiCultural Center Theater.
This event was put together as a part of the annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a week where participating locations across the country brought attention to hunger and homelessness issues by hosting similar events.
Members of the Rapid Rehousing team began the event with a presentation introducing programs for students struggling with hunger or homelessness at UCSB and the greater Santa Barbara County.
The presentation featured campus programs such as the Rapid Rehousing Program and the Financial Crisis Response Team, both of which offer temporary emergency housing for qualifying UCSB students for up to 25 days. The presenters also spoke on the city of Santa Barbara’s New Beginnings Safe Parking Program, which offers free overnight parking for individuals and families living in their vehicles, and the Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative, which offers low-rent cooperative student housing for all students attending post-secondary education in Santa Barbara.
They also highlighted housing programs under organizations such as the Isla Vista Tenants Union and the Isla Vista Community Services District that offer rental listing resources, neutral rental housing mediation services and tenant guides.
Third-year psychological & brain sciences major and Rapid Rehousing Marketing and Outreach Coordinator Jessica Arocho said her own recent experience with housing contract difficulties as a student inspired her to participate in this event.
“I had always heard of the daunting housing crisis situation. And so then when I didn’t get offered a housing contract, my first thought was, ‘okay, what next,’” said Arocho, who struggled this year to gain a housing contract after two years living on campus.
After meeting with a member of the Rapid Rehousing Program, Arocho found housing for the year, along with a passion to assist other students who might find themselves in her shoes.
“With this event, I really wanted to make sure that students knew what was out there, what resources that they can utilize and really just also create a safe space for people to talk about their stories and how they’ve been impacted by their situation,” Arocho said.
Following the housing resource presentation, Youth Action Board (YAB) member Joranne Joseph shared her story with homelessness and her pathway into housing advocacy work. Speaking to her experience with local shelters, shelters’ management systems and the lack of publicity of housing resources, Joseph decided to help fill the gap by becoming an advocate for housing insecurity.
“Our end goal is to help other youth who are in the same situations or same positions get connected within the community and get access to resources like educational partners and employment opportunity partners [so they can be] aware that [some people] may be going through the experience of homelessness,” she said.
Through her work, Joseph aims to make resources more accessible to the youth who need it. She said she believes it is very impactful to have voices of youth in the decision-making process for social change relating to resource insecurity — something core to YAB’s mission.
“We definitely want to let those individuals know that they are heard and they are seen,” she said.
The event ended with an open-mic forum where audience members could share their experiences in any format they chose.
Fourth-year sociology major Jessica Castillo, a member of multiple UCSB committees including the Rapid Rehousing Program and YAB recounted their experiences with basic needs insecurity and the necessity of events like this.
“It’s important to have UCSB students know about these things because it really gives them a chance to get involved and not just think negatively about everything going on and just kind of like, letting it happen,” Castillo said.
Castillo, who also helped coordinate Joseph’s involvement in the event, emphasized the value of having Joseph speak to and answer questions from UCSB students who might be struggling with the same experiences.
“The whole goal of having [Joseph] here was because she’s someone with actual lived experience. She has attended academic institutions. She’s obviously been in the system,” Castillo said. “And she’s also a part of a group that is in the middle of making a change — especially with all the other new programs coming in — and really to help students from UCSB see someone who’s gone through it and has been able to rise out of it and just give back to the community.”
A common thread through the entire event was the intersection between housing insecurity and marginalized communities. Third-year communication and sociology double major and Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program Coordinator Monica Mekhlouf describes UCSB’s lack of housing capacity for the majority of its undergraduate students as specifically disadvantageous for underrepresented groups.
“We have to find housing in I.V.; we have to find housing in Goleta. Some of us even live all the way out in Santa Barbara, and that’s usually not very sustainable for students who are low income, first generation and people of color, who are typically the main population that we serve as Rapid Rehousing in Basic Needs,” she said.
Mekhlouf’s dedication for housing insecurity-related work is closely linked to their belief in community.
“Strength is in community and strength is in your peers and knowing who your neighbors are,” she said.
They believe it is helpful to work with someone close in age who has gone through a similar situation to make navigating housing uncertainty a less intimidating process.
“It’s important to know about what’s happening around you and on your campus,” she said.