Two years ago, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White commissioned a study of homelessness and hunger among CSU students. The goals were simple but very ambitious: to find out how many students were experiencing these problems and what campuses were doing to meet the particular needs of displaced and food insecure students.

Today, led by Dr. Denise Bevly, DrPH, director of student wellness at the CSU Chancellor's Office, the CSU's Basic Needs Initiative (BNI) is entering its second phase of research and gathering information from students across the 23 campuses to determine how best to move forward with impactful programs and real solutions to food insecurity and housing instability.

Already, every CSU campus has some sort of food pantry or means of food distribution for students who need it, and some campuses offer additional services, like short-term temporary housing, emergency grants, and  personal care items.

"The campuses have really taken it on themselves to go above and beyond to try to meet the needs of students who are grappling with problems meeting their basic needs," says Dr. Bevly.

The Phase 1 study by CSU Long Beach professor Rashida Crutchfield, Ed.D., not only helped launch BNI, but those findings have informed and inspired more research, much of it shared on the BNI site on Calstate.edu.

Building on What Works

More data from the next phase of the CSU study is coming soon.

Results of the Phase 2 research will be released in January 2018, and Bevly expects the findings to provide a more comprehensive view of where the campuses are currently, especially "where the gaps are, and how we can work to fill in those gaps," she says.

Bevly's strategy is to create a framework of best practices that campuses can use to guide their efforts to serve their own food insecure and housing displaced students.

"Many of our campuses are doing wonderful work," she notes. "We're really trying to make sure the efforts are evidence-based … and that they are making an impact on the population."

The BNI has also drawn a positive response from the public. "We've had a lot of organizations reach out, many folks saying, 'what can we do, how can we help?' whether it be in kind or financially," Bevly says. "So right now we want to be thoughtful about how folks give their time and give their money; we want to have a plan in place."

She adds that when the results from the most recent phase of research are ready to share, campuses at the CSU and beyond will have more solid recommendations on which to make a lasting difference to students' well-being and to their academic success: "This is not an overnight fix. It's a complex problem that needs comprehensive solutions."

Conscientious Coaching

As director of BNI, Bevly strives to see the big picture by assessing what each campus is doing well and then sharing those best practices more widely.

"My role is to visit campuses and talk to as many people as I can that are doing work related to student hunger and homelessness and really listening to what's being done," she explains.

It's an ideal role for Bevly, who has worked as a public health and preventative health practitioner in low-income and minority communities and also coached young athletes. Through those experiences, she became acutely aware of the prevalence of food insecurity and homelessness among many youth.

Bevly was a scholarship athlete at USC, and went on to play professionally overseas. Once her playing days were over, she channeled her passion for sports and mentoring into coaching. Some of the players she coached experienced homelessness, and resources to support them were scarce, she says.

"I have a passion for reaching out to students who have high need or may have certain backgrounds in which they need a little bit more help or guidance. To me, this is a dream position."                    

Learn more about the CSU's Basic Needs Initiative.


CSU Bakersfield President Dr. Horace Mitchell (far left) celebrated the opening of a campus food pantry with (from second to the left) Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs Suzette Tischmacher; CSU Director of Student Wellness and Basic Needs Initiative Dr. Denise Bevly; Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Thomas Wallace; and Director of Development, CSUB Foundation Melissa Watkins. September 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of Office of Public Affairs and Communications, CSU Bakersfield