Galvanizing Tomorrow’s Civic Leaders: The Intersection Between Voting and Food and Housing Insecurity

By: Nantiya Ruan, Professor, Sturm College of Law; Heather Martin, Teaching Professor, Writing Program

Housing and food insecurity impacts many Coloradans. The causes of housing and food insecurity include systemic income inequality and lack of access to affordable housing and other critical services.  In order to address these systemic problems, voting for representatives that support social safety nets and affordable housing is the single most important citizen action one can take to address homelessness and hunger.

The DU Grand Challenges Collective Impact Cohort on Food and Housing Insecurity is comprised of DU students, faculty, and staff, as well as community members, addressing housing and food insecurity in our community. We partnered with two local organizations to make a real and lasting impact on their work and the lives of food and housing insecure Coloradans. Having public officials support this work is critical to our success.

First, as rentshave doubled in metro Denver over the past decade and the national affordable housing crisis grows, unhoused Coloradans are living in their cars. Colorado Safe Parking Initiative (CSPI) is a citizen-led initiative to establish safe, legal parking locations for individuals and families experiencing homelessness who are living in vehicles in Colorado’s Front Range communities. The DU Cohort and the Barton Institute for Community Action have provided needed legal support, marketing and communications support, and program evaluation. Electing representatives in local government, such as Denver City Council, that support legal and safe parking for homeless citizens is critically important to the success of this work.

Second, food insecurity among college students is associated with poor health and academic performance and increased mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety. While many hungry students are eligible for government supports like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), they may not know it or may struggle to navigate the enrollment process. The gap between people eligible for SNAP and those who actually receive the benefit is called the “SNAP gap.” To address this issue on our campus, the DU Cohort created SNAP Gap DU—a partnership between DU, leading Colorado food justice organization Hunger Free Colorado, and Denver Human Services. Starting this fall, SNAP Gap DU will offer student-to-student navigation supports, easy SNAP enrollment, and leadership opportunities for students experiencing hunger. By shining a light on this issue and voting for government officials that support social safety nets, such as food assistance programs like SNAP, we can help all DU students succeed and reduce the stigma around hunger and food insecurity in our community.

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