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Overnight Parking for Homeless College Students? Lawmakers Consider It

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Brittany Jones, a homeless college student in 2016, often slept in the early mornings on BART before classes began at Laney College in Oakland. The photo was taken in November 2016. (Brittany Hosea-Small)

San Jose community college student Angelica Lopez is juggling a full-time class load and three jobs. But the most stressful part of her life is figuring out where to park the car that doubles as her home.

Every day she weighs her options: park overnight in a good neighborhood and risk having the cops called on her? Or park in a neighborhood where she worries about getting robbed or raped?

A bill meant to provide a temporary solution for students like Lopez passed its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday when it advanced from the Assembly Higher Education Committee to the chamber's appropriations committee. The bill, AB 302, would require community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities.

More on Student Homelessness

Before the vote, members of the Assembly committee heard from homeless students and their allies who voiced their support, but both legislators and community college representatives also raised concerns over costs and logistics.

Community college students make up nearly two-thirds of California’s undergraduates, and a recent survey found almost 1 in 5 have been homeless in the last year. Most have jobs.

“This number is not only shocking and alarming and tragic, but it's a call to action," the bill’s author, Assemblymember Marc Berman of Palo Alto, said Tuesday at a press conference. "We can no longer pretend that community college student homelessness isn't a crisis."

Berman acknowledged the measure is only a stopgap and that the only solution is to build more housing.

"The goal isn't to have community college students, or anybody, sleep in their vehicles," he said. "We should be able to provide housing for residents at every income level. But we are far away from that goal in California today. The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now."


California Homeless Youth Project Director Shahera Hyatt applauded the bill as a reprieve from the criminalization of homelessness.

"We know in most parts of the state it is not legal to park and stay in your car overnight even when you have no other options," she said at the press conference.

The bill would require every community college district governing board to come up with a plan to roll out the new requirement; the California Community Colleges Chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, has not taken a position on it.

If signed into law, the overnight parking legislation would apply to any homeless student who is enrolled in classes and is in good standing with their community college. Schools would have until next summer to roll it out.

For Lopez, the plan would make a big difference. She said having a stable place to stay every night surrounded by other students who share her predicament would be a big improvement.

“It would remove a little bit of that fear,” said Lopez (we’re using her middle name to protect her privacy). “I really hope that it is passed.”

She likes the idea of creating community with other homeless students and said the peace of mind would help them focus on school.

“We would know that we have a safe place to go,” she said, “and not have to worry about where to park, where to sleep.”

But the bill creates another set of worries for the man at the helm of Lopez’s community college.

“I wouldn’t want someone to stay here and some sort of crime takes place and they’re hurt,” said Evergreen Valley College President Keith Aytch. “That would be my biggest, biggest concern.”

Aytch said there were many logistics to consider. For starters, he’d have to hire security guards, set up some portable bathrooms and partner with outside groups that can help connect students with resources. He would likely also ask students to sign liability waivers before allowing them to sleep on campus grounds, and he worries about how homeowners around the campus would respond. “Will it impact property values?” he asked.

At Tuesday's hearing, some committee members and representatives from community colleges pushed to strip the overnight parking mandate from the bill, or instead create a pilot program with a sunset date and assessment period.  They raised concerns about whether the state would kick in adequate funding to cover the costs to community colleges, too.

For his part, Aytch said he wants to support students like Lopez any way he can, even if that’s just a place to park. A campus survey found nearly 60 percent of students were housing insecure, while 15 percent were homeless, “primarily because the cost of living is extremely high,” Aytch said. A studio apartment in San Jose rents for over $1,700 a month, according to Apartment List’s latest data.

Aytch also hopes to work toward better solutions, like building student housing on campus.

The minds behind the recent report on California community college students' basic needs have a few recommendations of their own, including financial aid reform, and additional supports to help students take advantage of available grant money.

A law on the books since 2016 requires community colleges to make campus shower facilities available to homeless students.