Homelessness surging among California college students

Reporting from across California indicates that more college students are homeless than at any point in state history. While hard statistics are in short supply, surveys suggest the problem is so severe that the Golden State has far more than the overall total of 135,000 homeless people estimated in 2015 by the federal government.

The stories hammer home how the housing affordability crisis isn’t just squeezing low-income families in California. It’s limiting how much help middle-income families can give children attending college. After paying for college costs and food, many students don’t have enough money for shelter.

In April, the New York Times reported that California State University estimated that 8 percent to 12 percent of its 470,000 students experienced homelessness in 2016 – at least 37,000 students.

”This is not just happening in urban poor communities,” Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, told the Times. ”Homelessness now affects working-class and formerly middle-class families.”

In August, the Southern California News Group reported that a recent survey by the Los Angeles Community College District showed 18 percent of the 250,000 students at its nine colleges had experienced homelessness in the previous year. That’s about 45,000 students.

The report noted that Rio Hondo College in Whittier was taking unprecedented steps to address student homelessness, including encouraging students to shower on campus and planning to open a campus pantry to feed destitute students.

In August, a report in San Diego CityBeat detailed how officials at UC San Diego and San Diego State University and local aid agencies had ramped up efforts to help impoverished students with food and shelter. It noted that helping homeless college students was not a priority at local shelters.

Problem is worst in high-cost Silicon Valley

But the epicenter of California’s homeless college student problem appears to be in Silicon Valley, where housing costs are for the most part even higher than in Southern California. Last week, a nonprofit group that helps struggling young people in Santa Clara County – the Bill Wilson Center – released a study that estimated that 44 percent of community college students in the county were either homeless or lacked consistent access to stable housing.

Mike Pritchard, a homeless counselor in Santa Clara County, told the San Francisco Chronicle the high numbers were what he expected: “This is what I see all over the Bay Area and in many parts of this country. People are being forced out of their situations, rents are being jacked up. It’s getting worse, everywhere.”

The problems are not limited to areas close to the coast. In July, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported on a private Riverside County program that helped 600 poor college students at UC Riverside and Norco College to stabilize their lives, including help finding housing.

In an effort to determine the severity of the college housing crisis, state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, introduced Senate Bill 307 in February. It sought to establish a task force with representatives from the University of California, the California State University and the California Community Colleges to conduct “a study to determine the extent, causes and effects of housing insecurity and homelessness of current and future students.”

In May, SB307 passed three Senate committees and the Senate as a whole without a negative vote. But after it passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee in July on another unanimous vote, the measure stalled in the Assembly – without ever facing formal opposition from a lawmaker.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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