Student advocacy week brings housing and food insecurity recommendations to N.B. government

    Stills of the event for the NB Advocacy week, managed by the New Brunswick Student Alliance held from October 16th to the 20th, 2023. (Submitted: Sydona S Chandon)

    From Oct. 16 to 20, the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) made policy recommendations on behalf of students to provincial and municipal governments for advocacy week.

    The NBSA hosted meetings with stakeholders such as Members of the Legislative Assembly, city councillors and university administrators to discuss issues facing students. Their key priorities were affordability, international students, mental health services, sexual violence support, adequate housing and food insecurity.

    NBSA executive director and St. Thomas University alum Sydona Chandon, as well as her board members and student delegates from STU, Mount Allison University and the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, represented over 6,000 students during the week.

    Chandon said that government bodies on the provincial and municipal level were receptive to policy recommendations.

    “The biggest accomplishment [of advocacy week] is how receptive the different organizations that we met with under different bodies of government were to the policies that we brought forward,” she said.

    Chandon said that they were able to bring forward three policy recommendations to the provincial government surrounding housing.

    “It is a top priority right now for students to have affordable, accessible, safe and equitable housing.”

    The first recommendation is a rental registry to help students find rental units. According to the NBSA advocacy document, a registry could aid students, especially international and out-of-province students, locate and secure housing.

    The registry would be a database to track past and present rent costs and property maintenance for individual rental units.

    “A list of guidelines that help landlords maintain their properties adequately and affordably to help curb the increase in costs of rental properties.”

    The second recommendation was for the government to review governmental surplus properties, as outlined in the province’s Housing for All strategy. This includes determining how the Housing for All strategy applies to student housing.

    The third recommendation is for the government to create additional off-campus and on-campus housing to free up rental spaces for non-students.

    According to PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program in Canada, New Brunswick ranks second among the ten provinces in terms of the percentage of people living in food insecure households.

    Chandon said that because of statistics such as these it was important to advocate for food security on campuses.

    “Food insecurity was a policy that was really important to our students, because, as you know, the cost of living has risen and it’s really affecting the accessibility of nutritious foods for students.”

    Universities were recommended to allocate space and funding to combat food insecurity. The provincial government and municipalities were also recommended to establish long-term funding for university-specific food insecurity initiatives.

    Chandon hopes that the upcoming 2024 budget reflects students’ needs, especially affordability and access to education.

    “An increase in the affordability of education for our students … I believe that’s one of the most important areas right now.”

    St. Thomas University Student Union President Stevie DeMerchant is also on the NBSA board of directors and participated in advocacy week.

    DeMerchant said although there were no immediate wins, the week was important for student issues.

    “I think putting the policies out there and speaking about the issues at hand that are important to students is what is really important at the end of the day.”