The phrase “starving student” has become so well accepted in the college vernacular that California State University (CSU) campuses have done little to no research into how many of their enrolled students are homeless, according to a report from earlier this year.
But, more than 10,000 students in California labeled themselves as “independent homeless youth” on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2013-2014.
According to the most recent California State University report, only one out of 23 CSU campuses have launched a program to help displaced youth. The report also states that CSU campuses need funding just to extend research on student homelessness and food insecurity.
One of those campuses, San Francisco State University (SFSU), has yet to directly address student displacement, despite an increasingly expensive housing market. The school provides housing for 4,000 of its nearly 30,000 students. Room and board cost between $9,000 to $17,000 a year to live on campus, while the median rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is close to $4,000 a month. To address the scarcity of student housing, the school has proposed a project that will provide beds for over 400 additional students by 2018.
Homeless students must access resources outside campus. Larkin Street Youth Center is one of the largest nonprofit groups serving homeless youth in San Francisco. The most prominent population they serve is the LGBTQ community.
“Homeless youth are disproportionately students of color, queer and trans students,” said Vanessa Raditz, an instructor for Bridge Academy, a Larkin Street class for homeless youth who are preparing for college.
Alexis Moran, 25, is one of hundreds of LGBT displaced youth in San Francisco. She was homeless when she started her college career.
“I took a risk coming [to San Francisco] honestly ... I had no idea of where I was going to live. I was afraid of living on the streets,” said Moran.
Moran is from Bakersfield and is finishing her fourth semester at San Francisco State University. When she first arrived, Moran slept on friends’ couches before seeking help from Larkin. The group helped her to bridge moving from motel to shelter, until she finally qualified for a more stable housing program through Larkin.
“They helped me so much. They helped me get housing," she said. "They helped me get books. ... They have helped me keep my stability out here."
Like other homeless youth, campus housing wasn't a realistic choice for Moran because she says it was too expensive. She received a scholarship that covered only tuition. Moran hopes that SFSU creates more of a dialogue around displaced youth.
“I didn’t feel like I got any support from [San Francisco State University]. ... I didn’t know where to go for resources.”
According to the California State University report, 79 percent of displaced youth don’t know how to navigate resources and available services. In addition, 49 percent of CSU staff said “they were in need of more information about how to appropriately support students facing these social issues.”
Dian Blue Summers, 20, is from the Bay Area and is non-gender binary, meaning they don’t identify with male or female pronouns. Summers was kicked out of their parent’s house at age 17 after coming out to their father. Summers found solace at Larkin’s LGBT shelter shortly after.
Summers now attends the City College of San Francisco and hopes to enroll at SFSU next fall, and continue living in Larkin Street housing.
There is no state funding for student housing, and the U.S. Housing Department doesn’t offer Section 8 housing for independent homeless students.
The major factors leading to homelessness are poverty and a lack of affordable housing and access to public assistance. Students experiencing displacement are found to have lower educational outcomes and poorer overall health. Also, only 12 percent of low-income students will graduate from college by the age of 24, according to a report published last year.
Though some may consider student loans a quick fix, Summers and Moran both decided they didn't want to go into debt. The average debt of San Francisco State University graduates was $22,441 in 2014. Over the past decade, aggregate student debt has quintupled, rising from $250 billion to about $1 trillion.
“It seems like this super simple basic thing: shelter for a person to live in. But for some reason, it’s something people just can’t have,” said Summers. “You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps when you don't have a boot and you don't have the stuff you need to make a boot.”