Homelessness extends beyond just the visibly unhoused sleeping on streets and in tents. A hidden population experiencing housing insecurity is college students. Many struggle to afford the high costs of living and tuition in cities like Los Angeles while balancing full course loads. Student homelessness is a complex, often invisible issue on campuses across LA.
Scope of Student Homelessness
LA Times Report A recent study conducted by UCLA shone a light on the hidden epidemic of student homelessness across California. The research found extremely high rates of housing insecurity among college students in the state, with "One in five California community college students, one in 10 California State University students, and one in 20 University of California students" reporting being homeless in the past year. These alarming numbers from the UCLA data reveal how widespread an issue student homelessness has become, even at prestigious universities.
Difficulties finding affordable housing near campuses force many students into temporary solutions like sleeping in cars, "couch surfing" between friends' homes, or staying in shelters. Many colleges even allow students to sleep overnight in campus parking lots in their vehicles. This hidden housing insecurity prevents students from thriving academically and reaching their full potential. Addressing basic needs like food, shelter, healthcare, and childcare is crucial.
Barriers Homeless Students Face Students experiencing homelessness encounter many challenges in staying on track with their education, including:
Unstable living situations: Frequent moves and unreliable temporary housing when couch surfing or living in vehicles disrupt study routines.
Access to campus services: No mailing address can prevent registering for classes, applying for aid, and accessing campus resources.
Food insecurity: Students can't afford consistent healthy meals, which impacts health and learning. Campus food pantries help address this need.
Stress and trauma: Homelessness causes great emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and trauma which hinders focus and retention.
Addressing these unique barriers with compassion is key to helping students break the cycle of poverty through education.
Why Student Homelessness is Rising in LA Various factors contribute to the growing crisis of student homelessness in Los Angeles:
Limited campus housing: Dorms and on-campus apartments are very expensive and inadequate to meet the high demand at most LA colleges and universities. Private units fill up fast.
Food and living costs: High prices for groceries, transportation, utilities, and other essentials strain already tight student budgets. The recent spikes in prices force many to work with even a tighter budget.
Unstable part-time jobs: Students struggling to work side jobs with fluctuating incomes for rent, utilities, gas, and more.
Reduced financial aid: Cuts and stricter eligibility for state and federal aid programs provide less assistance.
Lack of family support: Some students don't have parents who are able to support their living costs and tuition.
With LA's competitive housing market and rising prices, more students find themselves priced out of apartments and relying on temporary solutions for shelter.
Resources for Homeless Students in Los Angeles Several local colleges offer services and programs to help identify and support students facing housing insecurity. These include:
Basic needs offices: Almost all colleges and universities have established hubs to connect students to food, housing, financial aid, and other resources.
Meal vouchers: Los Angeles Valley College, Long Beach Community College, and Los Angeles Pierce College help provide free warm meal vouchers for students who meet qualification criteria.
Emergency housing: Some provide short-term emergency shelters, like UCLA's Bruin Shelter, for students who experience homelessness.
Social workers: Schools like LACC, LAVC, and many other community colleges offer counseling to identify students' urgent needs.
Showers and storage: Access to locker rooms, showers, and storage helps meet basic hygiene and organizational needs.
Another organization providing support is Student LunchBox, a non-profit focused on addressing food insecurity among college students across Los Angeles. They provide weekly fresh food deliveries to thousands of students at colleges like Cal State LA, Cal State Long Beach, CSUN, Los Angeles Valley College, Pierce College, and more. They provide groceries and fresh produce to help supplement meals so students can save money for rent, textbooks, and other essentials. Student LunchBox partners with campus basic needs offices to discreetly distribute food to college students in need. With a mission to help students graduate, Student LunchBox tackles one obstacle of hunger, recognizing access to healthy food is crucial for academic success.
Students experiencing or on the verge of homelessness should discreetly contact counseling services, basic needs offices, social workers, or professors who can advise on available resources confidentially. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. You are not alone.
With greater awareness and support programs, LA colleges hope to address this hidden social crisis that prevents students from succeeding academically and rising out of poverty. Students just need an opportunity.