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Stories of Resource Insecurity: How Dillon Hlohinec reconciles his past by helping others plan for their futures

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A photo of young Dillon Hlohinec. (Courtesy Dillon Hlohinec)

This set of audio stories looks at the different lenses of resource insecurity. Through looking at resource centers, talking with community members, students and experts we have found many solutions, conversations and topics to look at when understanding how resource insecurity looks in the University of Arizona community. 

In this episode, we sit down with Dillon Hlohinec, a University of Arizona sophomore, to talk about his struggles with food and even housing insecurity. Dillon’s past has motivated him to become a mentor for his fellow students and an advocate for resource accessibility across campus.


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This show is produced as part of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and Arizona Student Media apprenticeship. With the help of student journalists we have uncovered stories around the topic of resource insecurity and continue to do work talking about the subject and bringing light to resources for the community. Thank you everyone involved in the making of this show including the Daily Wildcat

TRANSCRIPT:      

Sofia Revilak: In 2018, an estimated 37 million Americans were food insecure. Food insecurity is a rising problem in the US, defined as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle,” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, one in eight Americans experience food insecurity across income ranges and social classes. Factors such as physical and mental health, family structure, economic hardship and housing stability all play a part in determining if a household is food insecure.

Celestino Fernandez: And it's difficult to enjoy life, if one is hungry.

Sofia: Celestino Fernandez, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Arizona says that without food security you can not have quality of life.

Celestino: One may, may eat enough food but not good food in a sense, and not enough vegetables, fruits- things that contribute to our physical mental state.

It's really quite simple. That is, if we're hungry, if we don't have enough food in us chemicals are happening in our brain.

Sofia: Growing up, Dillon Hlohinec and his family struggled with food insecurity and access to stable housing.

Dillon Hlohinec: We lived in the middle of nowhere in a house with mold black mold in the upstairs. And I actually spent most of my time there sleeping in a tent outside. Because black mold upstairs meant that there was not a lot of living space inside. So it was really just used as a kitchen and a bathroom and then we slept in tents or cars outside.

Sofia: In this episode, I sit down with Dillon, a UA sophomore, to talk about his struggles with food and even housing insecurity. Dillon’s past has motivated him to become a mentor for his fellow students and an advocate for resource accessibility across campus. 

Dillon: My name is Dillon Lucas Hlohinec currently using he/him/his pronouns. I am a philosophy, politics, economics and law and political science double major with minors in Spanish and philosophy. If it didn't sound like I did a lot by my majors, I guess I have, I try and do a lot. So currently, I'm working two jobs on campus. I'm an RA, which uses up a good bit of my mental capacity. And then I also work at the thrive center as a peer mentor, which, thankfully, doesn't eat up too much of my capacity, but does eat up a lot of my time. 

Being an RA gives me secure housing. It's not something to stress over as much, I do have to make sure that I'm doing a good job and helping people and making sure that residents' needs are met. But it is very much I think, for a lot of people, that part of the job that's enticing, is the fact that it gives you free housing and half a meal plan. I still think that the position is heavily underpaid, I think the amount of work that you take up as an RA is not worth the current compensation. But, it does allow me to feel secure in my housing and not stress too much about it.

Sofia: Having been homeless countless times growing up, access to secure housing is something that Dillon feels very strongly about.

Dillon: In the summer of 2010, my dad's business fell through and we were evicted- actually, yea- right about the start of the summer and I lived in a tent and we camped on Lake Mary for about a month. I think it was about six weeks in total. It was me and my younger brother and my father for about a month. And then my mother and my older brother returned after they had been staying with my mother's mother, my grandmother in California for a while and they returned. They joined us and then we were on the lake for another few weeks. And then when the monsoon season heavily started hitting in Arizona, as it does in northern Arizona in Flagstaff, we moved into a workshop that belonged to a family friend. So it's on this, It's out past what is known as Little America in Flagstaff there's this little house they had, what is it a mobile home, and then they had a shop that was built next to that and we stayed in the shop. It didn't have a bathroom, it didn't have a kitchen or anything. It was just like a workspace that had been converted (that we converted) it was a storage space and we kind of converted into a living area. My parents used a loft style bed, that's where they slept. And then me and my siblings had some different strange living arrangements. I don't remember where one of my brothers slept. But the other, me and one of my siblings, slept on massage tables in the like, big large storage room of this workshop. And we were there for I actually do not remember how long for a number, I want to say a number of months. And thankfully the folks who shop it was we were close family friends with and we went to the same school as them. So, you know, we were able to like trade off who drove kids to school and stuff like that. But at some point during that fall, my dad left for the first time and my mom got a job and started working and we were able to move into a small house in Cocina.  I'm like a little fuzzy on timelines because I was I was like 11 at the time. 

Sofia: I spoke to a childhood friend of Dillon’s over the phone, Will Redding, who told me about the role he believes Dillon’s family played in masking their struggles to the outside world.

Will Redding: They spent a solid, at least a month out there if I recall. We came over to visit for a weekend. So we spent, you know a couple days camping with them, sort of hanging out by the lake together. It's difficult to speak sort of objectively to his experience in that case, because, you know, I was a kid, and I wasn't really perceptive to, you know, the concept of inequality, or at least not to the degree that I am now. So I didn't really see sort of the hardship as much as I did the sort of aspect of “Oh, hey, they're camping out in the woods. That's pretty cool.”

Sofia: In spite of their efforts, his family's recklessness with money and inability to offer secure housing put a significant strain on their relationship with Dillon, causing a rift that exists to this day.    

Dillon: I actually view my time in high school as harder. And I think that's just because of the family dynamic that was occurring in my household at that time. So after I was homeless, and after my dad left, and my mom got a job, my dad's the reason that I had to, the way that I checked for example, the timeline is that there is an obituary from John Murray in Woodland Hills, California. And that is my grandfather. My grandfather died. He passed away in June 26 2011. I was not very close with him, I had just looked at the obituary date. And he left a house in Woodland Hills, and my mother's brother wanted it and gave her a quarter of a million dollars so that he could have it fully in his name. He took out a loan for this, of course, I do not come from any form of money. We suddenly went from being broke, and my mother struggling to pay rent and pay for food and pay for basic needs to “Oh, we have a quarter of a million dollars.” And at that point, my father re-entered the picture and convinced her to waste a lot of it. 

Sofia: Experiencing food and housing insecurity at an early age left Dillon with scars that affected him into his teenagee years and that he’s still working to heal.

Dillon: I seriously struggled with depression and anxiety and a lot of other personal issues at that time because of my living situation. Despite the fact that there were slightly less financial hardships. You know, we had a regular roof over our head when I was in high school. And my mother had made it a point to always keep food on the table. But you know, sometimes the hot water was not on, sometimes we didn't have electricity for a few- I actually don't think it was ever longer than a day or two days- probably just a day. But sometimes a bill would not get paid on time and it would get shut off and we'd have to redo it. The hardest was when the internet got shut off. Because my dad worked from home and so he couldn't work without the internet and so it became a very big struggle. But most bills were paid within one to two days of them being shut off. It just meant on occasion there would be a lack of what I consider a necessary resource.

Sofia: But today, Dillon’s taken these experiences and used them to help fellow students as a Thrive Mentor at the University of Arizona, where he works to make it easier for students to access basic needs.

Dillon: Removing as many barriers as possible so that things are very easily accessible, and you don't have to go very far out of your way to access them, I think is very important for ensuring needs get met, whether that be mental or emotional or physical or monetary needs. I think it makes a lot of sense to approach it from the lens of like, okay, well, what do I have? What can I offer? And why am I bringing, when am I going to bring something up when I don't have a way to fix it easily or a solution that will work super excessively, but I understand that the student needs it. And even though I can't provide it like I have to give them something.

Sofia: While food, shelter, and clothing are all essential to survive, Dillon has learned that for a college student, in order to thrive, the list goes on. 

Dillon: I mean if you're going to be a student in academia, and you want to succeed, you can't just stop the list there. We need internet, you need a computer to be able to use the internet, you probably need a phone if you're going to be doing job interviews or working. So then you've got three more things. Well, you're going to probably need transportation if you'd like to have a social life, or you need access to transportation if you even like to just get groceries. Because now succeeding in academia is not just about turning in your assignments online. But it's also about the social connections that you build. And if you can't get cultural or social capital, by traveling or experiencing certain experiences, you're screwed, you will not be successful academically, like networking is a huge thing. And it's, I think we might put pressure on it from the wrong perspective. But just being able to understand what limits people from being able to network in a way that they deem necessary and important. You know, just focusing on school doesn't really get you anywhere. It's those connections that will really help you succeed.

Sofia: Dillon works to connect UA students to existing resources and advocates for change where it's most needed, because the reality of it is that 70 percent of students at two-year institutions and 61 percent of students at four-year institutions faced either homelessness or housing or food insecurity in the previous year, according to a new research study done by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. If you are experiencing food or resource insecurity as a UA student, visit fosteringsuccess.arizona.edu for a list of available resources that can help and don’t forget that you’re not alone, that the wildcat family is here for you, and that people like Dillon who understand and want to help are everywhere.  


Editor's Note: This audio story and corresponding transcript were produced as part of the "Confronting Scarcity Project" – a collection of reporting, commentary, maps, audio and more aimed at destigmatizing and amplifying the conversation around food and basic needs insecurity. This project was produced with students and the university community in mind as part of a collaboration between the Daily Wildcat and the UA School of Journalism's student media apprenticeship program.


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