Time to Step Up: Homelessness and Food Insecurity Action Week

Time to Step Up: Homelessness and Food Insecurity Action Week

First, there’s awareness. Last year when the Urgent Challenges Collective branded a fall semester week to addressing homelessness and food insecurity, it mostly kept itself focused on ways that members of the University of San Diego community could learn and share their thoughts about the issues. It was a solid first step forward.

Then comes the all-important second step. This year, in 2020 with everything that’s happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the second step may seem to be a difficult one, but resilience by way of still offering a Homelessness and Food Insecurity Week virtually, demonstrated exactly why the word “action” was inserted into this year’s title.

Urgent Challenges Collective leaders, Mike Williams, PhD, a professor in the Political Science and International Relations Department and director of USD's Changemaker Hub, and Kate DeConinck, adjunct assistant professor for the Theology and Religious Studies Department, are determined to grow this initiative and to see Toreros join and work to make things better.

Williams and DeConinck had several campus partners willing and able to assist. The second-year event was supported by the USD Votes initiative, the Center for Educational Excellence, Changemaker Hub, the Center for Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy, the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, and the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.

This team mentality enabled students to learn and listen to opportunities for inspiration and to find an outlet to suit their active desire to make a difference. The week included a session to hear more about an affordable housing issue on the election ballot with San Diego Housing Foundation Executive Director Stephen Russell; a chance to hear 2020-21 USD Just Read! book author Conor Dougherty discuss Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America; take in the history lesson to be learned from The Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy Day; and there was a three-session, two-day Resource Fair to learn about opportunities to jump into community service work with organizations such as People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), Think Dignity, Feeding San Diego, Linda Vista’s Ebenezer Church, USD’s own Food Pantry and Torero Closet, Father Joe’s Villages and a chance to be part of a team seeking to get an affordable housing measure passed on the November 2020 ballot.

Resource Fair Offers Perspective, Hope and a Desire to Act

After each of the organizations gave a presentation to a Zoom audience — one of the toughest aspects of each organization’s ability to reach its community — it was important to hear what is happening in San Diego to assist those who are homeless and food insecure.

The PATH and Think Dignity representatives, respectively, were both USD alumnae, Programs and Operations Manager Merlynn Watanabe (Kroc School MA Peace and Justice Studies) and Kitchen and Volunteer Coordinator Sigrid Struben (MA Nonprofit Leadership and Management). Both organizations are not only providing solid support for the communities they serve, but PATH and Think Dignity are also directly connected to the USD Changemaker Hub and its fall entrepreneurship/social innovation event, the Changemaker Challenge video competition.

Ebenezer Church in Linda Vista (co-pastors Noel Musicha and Jere Lester), Feeding San Diego (Volunteer Coordinator Marilyn Villalba) and the USD Food Pantry/Torero Closet/Torero Renaissance Scholars (Assistant VP for Student Life Cynthia Avery, EdD) each demonstrated the empathy, support and love for the communities they strive to serve, too.

Whether it was Musicha’s desire for the church to have an active, integral involvement with the community — “we wanted to be sure that we engage not just on Sundays,”— or Lester talking the importance of having meals with everyone in their community, learn names and to live the two core tenets of kinship and inherent dignity, this church cares.

Villalba strives to get people in need the food they need — the Feeding San Diego website has a find food map — to be nourished and supported. She spoke of what the COVID-19 pandemic has done statistically to the seriousness of food insecurity — “pre-pandemic it was 1 in 8 adults facing food insecurity and 1 in 6 children; now it’s 1 in 6 for adults and 1 in 4 for kids.”

Dr. Avery has been a strong leader and advocate for students at USD facing issues of homelessness and hunger and has grown the Toreros Renaissance Scholars program — students who are former foster youth — with the help of fellow campus leaders.

“People don’t understand we have students who struggle,” Avery said. But thanks to generous funding from Associated Student Government, the USD Parents Association and the San Diego Food Bank, the USD Food Pantry, located in Hahn University Center 116 (open by appointment only) provides food, school supplies, hygiene products, laundry detergent and more. The Torero Closet is where students can select from lightly used professional clothing for use in job interviews and such. In a typical year, Avery says 200 students at USD are served by the pantry. So far, there are 60 using it this semester.

“We strive to be a very diverse and inclusive community,” says Avery. “All students are part of the fabric of the USD family. Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and have a wonderful college experience.”

Father Joe’s Villages Development Officer Megan Callery and Brendan Dentino, campaign director for Homes for San Diegans who seeks to get a measure passed favorably in the November 2020 election to build affordable homes locally, were on the final resource fair Zoom talk.

Callery hasn’t been at Father Joe’s Villages too long in her role, but she surely embodies the care and determination that comes with the desire to assist that experiencing homelessness. “Everything is centered around the creed — It’s not a handout, but a hand up.” Father Joe’s Villages has been connected to USD community service efforts some 15-20 years through various campus entities.

Dentino, meanwhile, has served in many capacities, from the Navy to the expertise he’s gained in housing policy work to work toward ending the housing affordability crisis that exists in California. His thoughts on how 2020 has been for everyone, going through the pandemic, and especially for those who don’t have a roof over their heads? “Everything that’s happened in 2020, I think underscores the need for affordable housing.”

Given what Urgent Challenges Collective leaders awakened in USD students last week, it is hoped that the latter will indeed feel more capable, more confident to see what happens when they take their next step.

— Ryan T. Blystone

The Urgent Challenges Collective has the videos from the Homelessness and Food Insecurity Action Week events on its YouTube channel. Also, check out the UCC website for more events.

The Urgent Challenges Collective, with the help of numerous on and off-campus partners, hosted the Homelessness and Food Insecurity Action Week, Sept. 22-25.The Urgent Challenges Collective, with the help of numerous on and off-campus partners, hosted the Homelessness and Food Insecurity Action Week, Sept. 22-25.

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