This is my New Home: Homelessness Among College Students
Picture Nicole, a young and aspiring engineering student who saved up all her money and took on multiple jobs to be able to pay for her first year at community college. Her tuition is paid for, but there is still the problem of housing. She has a car that a friend’s parent has let her borrow, which has become her home, where she sleeps at night, showering and brushing her teeth at various places around campus. The stress of where to park her car at night and where she will shower and get food has become difficult to juggle with her coursework. She wants to focus on her studies and not worry about basic needs.
There is a stigma surrounding homelessness, sometimes called “a hidden crisis.” Many homeless college students don’t talk about their living situation because they believe others will judge them, and many think they are one of the few experiencing homelessness. However, many college students have stated that they experienced homelessness at some point in their college careers.
According to the Hope survey, seventeen percent of community college students experienced homelessness in 2019, with twenty percent of community college students in California alone experiencing homelessness. This problem is pervasive and affects more college students each year. In California, where rental prices have continued to skyrocket over the years, it has become unattainable for many, let alone college students, to afford a place to live while getting an advanced degree.
The COVID-19 pandemic also created new struggles for homeless college students. Prior to the pandemic, many students were sleeping in their cars, showering at gyms, and using local restaurant bathrooms. The pandemic made all those things next to impossible, making an already difficult living situation even more challenging.
Then in 2021, the California legislature approved 30 million dollars to fund basic needs programs at all community colleges in the state and 100 million dollars in grant money to address food and housing insecurity. This part of the budget also requires each community college in California to appoint a basic needs coordinator, who will assist students needing basic needs to housing, food, and mental health. Many of the basic needs programs include parking lots and garages for homeless college students to sleep. If the community college cannot provide any of these needs, the coordinator will provide students with locations and contact information for those services.
However, there has been a backlash to basic needs programs from mayors and legislators across California, with mayors questioning if parking lots and garages for homeless college students might make their cities look bad. The Community College League of California estimated it would cost California about 69 million dollars a year, with much of the money spent on sanitation and security. Some legislators also reasoned that it could be deemed offensive what the state considered to be “adequate housing,” and some activists for homelessness among college students even stated that the budget didn’t address all homeless college students, namely those who did not have cars.
Given these criticisms, there have been some solutions to the issue of homelessness among college students, namely at Long Beach Community College, a community college south of Los Angeles. LBCC has established a parking garage on campus, equipped with a security guard, Wi-Fi, and nearby bathrooms. The community college also provides aid from staff to find more stable and long-term housing. LBCC’s new way to give college students a safe place to sleep sparked national attention, with other colleges across the nation reaching out about how they can implement something similar at their schools.
LBCC also utilizes their “Viking Vault,” an on-campus food pantry supported partly by Student LunchBox, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to fighting food insecurity among college students.
Even though these solutions to college homelessness don’t fix the core issue, at the very least, they have ignited national attention and brought awareness to a growing problem—the first step to addressing an issue is to get more people on board. Many believe that college students deserve housing security because of their motivation to get an advanced degree, become more educated, and be more willing to help them get adequate places to live. It is a stepping stone to bringing awareness to college students’ plights and homelessness.
This copy was prepared by Allison Norberg, a volunteer at Student Lunchbox, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity among college students.