Long Beach City College has launched a pilot program to designate safe overnight parking for students living in their cars, an initiative designed to give the most vulnerable people some semblance of emergency help.
From 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., up to 15 students will be able to park in a campus car park under the supervision of security guards and have access to Wi-Fi, electricity and toilets, and from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., have access to campus showers. Two students – who refused to speak – signed up. Nine others applied.
The effort is the first step in providing immediate help to community college students who live in cars. About 68 students have been identified to date. According to Safe Parking LA, an organization that will serve as a consultant for the college’s program, more than 15,700 people in Los Angeles County live in their vehicles every night.
The program also reflects the deep need of many students in Long Beach City and beyond seeking higher education amidst many hardships.
“It’s not just meant to be a long-term solution for students,” said Long Beach Community College Acting District Superintendent Mike Munoz. “All students who participate in the Safe Parking program can receive case management services through our Basic Needs Office. We are looking for ways to get them out of homelessness.
The LBCC said at least 199 students have identified themselves, through a request for emergency student aid funds, as chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for more than a year. year.
About 1,000 of the 20,000 students who responded to a pre-enrollment survey have not had stable or permanent accommodation at some point in the past five months. About 3,000 said they had difficulty paying their bills, including rent, in the past six months.
The program was strongly inspired by a California Assembly Bill, who died in the state Senate last year, which had offered a statewide overnight parking program for homeless students across California Community Colleges’ 116 campus system. The bill failed in large part because of liability issues and funding issues.
Munoz, however, supported the intentions of the bill and felt that some form of temporary emergency assistance – even a safe parking space – was needed.
“I think it will take courageous schools,” he said, noting that additional concerns about the unsuccessful bill among community college leaders centered on security issues.
Munoz described the parking program as part of a multi-pronged approach to help students tackle homelessness now and in the future.
“We need to have a strategy for the students who are in this housing crisis,” he said. “Safe parking is that short-term answer for students with precarious housing who need help now. “
A middle ground solution would expand partnerships with nonprofits Jovenes and Economic Roundtable, which help homeless students find housing. The long-term solution would be to build affordable housing in two or three years.
LBCC officials ask students looking for a place to complete an emergency aid application and be enrolled in at least nine units of the college. Students must also have up-to-date car registration and insurance, a requirement that may be a barrier for some, Munoz said.
Patricia Lopez, 34, is one of the LBCC students who have experienced homelessness. After fleeing domestic violence in December, she and her 12-year-old daughter spent months living in their car or a friend’s campervan without electricity and surfing on the couch at various friends’ homes – all the while continuing to work and take courses like her. girl did distance learning.
“It was a testing time in my life,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t afford to take a shower, I didn’t have groceries, I couldn’t cook,” she said, adding that all of her and her daughter’s belongings were still in their car.
She struggled to do better for her daughter, but felt inadequate and unmotivated.
When she found herself depressed last semester, she told a teacher that she was struggling. The teacher introduced her to the LBCC’s basic needs staff, who helped her with groceries and hygiene products and put her in touch with Jovenes. With the help of the organization, Lopez and her daughter were able to move into an apartment at the end of July.
“It was a breath of fresh air.”
She believes that an overnight parking program like LBCC’s could provide some stability for students who have found themselves in situations like hers.
The LBCC’s program will be evaluated at the end of June, Munoz said. Munoz is hoping that the data collected on the program, which took place as a result of the board’s discussions around the Assembly bill, could inspire other colleges to launch similar initiatives.
Data on student homelessness was not regularly tracked before the COVID-19 pandemic, Munoz said, but Latino and black students were disproportionately affected.
A last year’s report from the Center for School Transformation at UCLA found that homelessness for K-12 students and those at the University of California, California State University, and the community college system increased by 50% over the past year decade, the pandemic being seen as a key factor. The study found that one in five community college students were homeless.
In LA County, 74% of homeless students were Latino and 12% were black.
For students like Lopez, housing security has made a huge difference to her and her daughter.
“We used to live in a motorhome with no electricity, no water, no toilet – my baby was dirty. I don’t ever want to do this to him again. She is too precious for this world, ”she said through tears.
Lopez never considered dropping out of school. In previous years, she had struggled with health issues and a drug problem. When she finally enrolled in college in 2019 with financial assistance from CalWorks, she maintained a GPA of 3.6.
“I believe education should come first because knowledge is power – no one wants to hire you without [an associate of arts degree]. Having an education is really important to me, more than having a job, ”she said. “Because if I work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life, where do I go?” “
Lopez will graduate at the end of the next semester and plans to become a drug and alcohol counselor. She plans to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work.