Calling it a small step to help students, Assemblymember Marc Berman held a press conference Tuesday to discuss his legislation, AB 302, which would require community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities for homeless students to sleep in their vehicles.
“We’re here to address the crisis of homelessness that our community college students are facing right now,” Assemblymember Berman said during the press conference at the Capitol.
A recent report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, which surveyed nearly 40,000 students at 57 community colleges, found that 19 percent of respondents experienced homelessness in the previous year. Extrapolated to California’s community college population of 2.1 million students, that means nearly 400,000 students have experienced homelessness in the last year.
As Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, Assemblymember Berman convened five informational hearings throughout the state during the 2017-2018 Legislative Session. He listened to stakeholders about what was holding students back from completing two-year or four-year degrees. “By far the most common concern I heard from students, was about the cost of housing including heartwrenching stories from some students who found themselves sleeping in their cars because they could not afford the cost of housing.”
“Housing and food insecurity among college students, also known as basic needs insecurity, is finally getting the attention it deserves,” he said. Homelessness, he explained, “has a direct impact on a student’s academic success.”
Under existing law, campuses are required to give students access to shower facilities. He called this bill “the next logical step in helping our homeless students.”
However, Assemblymember Berman adamantly made it clear: “AB 302 is not a solution to the homelessness crisis.” He said that building more housing is the solution, but warned, “that will take years.” He said, “In the meantime, there are hundreds of thousands of community college students experiencing homelessness right now. Tonight. We should do everything we can to make their situation a little better.”
He pointed out: “The goal isn’t to have community college students sleep in their vehicles,” and AB 302 also connects students to resources and services.
Assemblymember Berman stated that the goal is to provide housing to students and residents at every level. “But,” he said, “we are far away from that goal today.”
“The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now, and when we don’t provide a safe place for them to sleep, we force them into the shadows – into dark alleys and industrial parks – where they are most vulnerable,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We can no longer pretend that community college student homelessness isn’t a crisis – we have the data that clearly says it is. Shame on us if we turn our backs on these students and choose to ignore them.”
Assemblymember Berman introduced three students who shared their experiences.
The first was Matthew Bodo, a third year student at Foothill College, whose experience became the reason for the legislation. He stayed in his car, or couch surfing as he tried to find a stable place to live.
He explained, during his first two years of school, he was a full-time student AND worked a full-time job, “but still wasn’t able to earn enough money to be able to afford to pay rent.”
Mr. Bodo described sleeping in his car on campus, but was asked to leave by campus police. “I resorted to sleeping nearby off-campus, which was not well received by the residents of the area, because not only is it illegal, but the residents did not take kindly to it.”
Some vandalized his car, which was a big problem for him, as it was his “home,” he said. He resorted to staying further and further from campus, which was “problematic,” as he also had to use the showers on campus, which were available to all students.
He explained, “AB 302 will allow students to stay, safely, in an area where homelessness is not criminalized, and nearby to resources that California community colleges provide them.”
“There are many students in need of this bill,” he continued. “There’s a huge homeless population at community colleges. Many of these students are attending, trying to escape poverty and homelessness.
“The biggest challenge I faced when I was a student living in my car was having no safe place to park overnight where I could rest or have time to catch up on my homework,” said Anthony White, a student at Palomar College. “AB 302 requires community colleges to make a small change, but it can give students the chance at success that can be life changing.”
“Student homelessness is very real and very unfortunate,” said Iiyshaa Youngblood, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, the sponsor of AB 302. “AB 302 is not the perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction. This bill will give homeless students a semblance of relief and connect them with the necessary city, district, or county resources, which would aid the students in finding suitable housing. We have to start somewhere because our current efforts are failing our most vulnerable students.”
Assembly Bill 302 would require community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities to any homeless student that is enrolled in coursework, has paid enrollment fees if not waived, and is in good standing with the community college, without requiring the student to enroll in additional courses.
The governing board of each community college would be required to develop an implementation plan that includes, in part, an overnight parking form and liability waiver, designation of a specific parking area or areas, accessible bathroom facilities, hours of operation, and overnight parking rules.
AB 302 specifies that it is the intent of the Legislature that homeless students who use the overnight parking facilities shall be connected to available state, county, community college district resources, as well as community-based housing, food, and financial assistance resources.
The bill was set to be heard later in the afternoon on Tuesday at the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
—David M. Greenwald reporting