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15 parking spaces at Long Beach City College to be reserved for homeless students

BY COLLEEN SHALBY Staff Writer, LA Times NOV. 3, 2021 4:07 PM PT

Originally posted in the LATimes

Long Beach City College has launched a pilot program to designate safe, overnight parking for students living in their cars, a move designed to offer those who are most vulnerable some semblance of emergency aid.

From 10 p.m. until 7 a.m., up to 15 students will be able to pull into a campus parking garage under the watch of security guards and access Wi-Fi, electricity and restrooms, and from 6 a.m to 8 a.m., have access to campus showers. Two students — who declined to talk — have enrolled. Nine more have applied.

The effort is the first step to provide immediate help to the community college’s students who are living in cars. About 68 students so far have been identified. According to Safe Parking L.A., 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 each night.

The program also reflects the deep need among many college students at Long Beach City and elsewhere seeking higher education amid much hardship.ADVERTISING

“This is not just intended to be a long-term solution for students,” Long Beach Community College District interim Supt.-President Mike Munoz said. “All students who participate in the Safe Parking Program are able to receive case management services through our office of basic needs. We’re looking for ways to transition them” out of homelessness.

LBCC said at least 199 students have identified themselves, via a student emergency aid fund application, as chronically homeless, meaning they have experienced homelessness for more than a year

About 1,000 of 20,000 students who responded to a preregistration survey have not had stable or permanent housing at some point in the last five months. Roughly 3,000 said they had difficulty paying their bills, including rent, over the last six months.

The program was modeled heavily after a California Assembly bill, which died in the state Senate last year, that had proposed a statewide overnight parking program for unhoused students throughout the 116-campus California Community Colleges system. The bill failed largely because of liability concerns and questions over funding.

Munoz, however, supported the intentions of the bill and believed some form of temporary emergency help — even a safe parking space — was needed.

“I think it will take some schools that are courageous,” he said, noting that additional concerns over the unsuccessful bill among community college leaders centered on questions over safety.

Munoz described the parking program as part of a multi-pronged approach to help students battling homelessness now and in the future.

“We have to have a strategy for students who are in that housing crisis,” he said. “Safe parking is that short-term response for students that are housing insecure that need support in the moment.”

An intermediary solution would expand partnerships with the nonprofits Jovenes and Economic Roundtable, which help homeless students find housing. The long-term solution would be to build affordable housing two to three years down the road.

LBCC officials ask students who are seeking a space to complete an emergency aid application and to be enrolled in at least nine units at the college. Students must also have current car registration and insurance, a requirement that may be a barrier for some, Munoz said, so the college is also working with the LBCC Foundation’s Helping the Homeless Students Associate Group to consider additional support.

Patricia Lopez, 34, is among the LBCC students who have experienced homelessness. After fleeing from domestic violence in December, she and her 12-year-old daughter spent months living in their car or in a friend’s RV without electricity and couch-surfed at various friends’ homes — all while continuing to work and take classes as her daughter did remote learning.

“It was a testing period in my life,” Lopez said. “I didn’t have means to a shower, I didn’t have groceries, I wasn’t able to cook,” she said, adding that all of her and her daughter’s belongings remained in their car at all times.

She strove to do better for her daughter, but felt inadequate and unmotivated.

When she found herself falling into a depression last semester, she confided to a professor that she was struggling. The professor introduced her to LBCC’s basic needs staff, who helped her with groceries and hygiene products and connected her with Jovenes. With the organization’s help, Lopez and her daughter were able to move into an apartment in late July.

“It was a breath of fresh air.”

She believes an overnight parking program like LBCC’s could offer some stability for students who have found themselves in situations like hers.

LBCC’s program will be assessed at the end of June, Munoz said. Munoz hopes that data collected about the program, which came about following Board of Trustees discussion around the Assembly bill, could inspire other colleges to launch similar initiatives.

Data on student homelessness weren’t regularly tracked before the COVID-19 pandemic, Munoz said, but Latino and Black students have disproportionately been affected.

report last year from UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools found that homelessness for K-12 students and those at the University of California, California State University and community college system had risen by 50% over the last decade, with the pandemic believed to be a key driver. The study found that 1 in 5 community college students were experiencing homelessness.

In L.A. County, 74% of homeless student were Latino and 12% were Black.

For students like Lopez, housing security has made a huge difference for she and her daughter.

“Before, we were living in an RV with no electricity, no water, no restroom — my baby was dirty. I never want to put her through that again. She’s too precious for this world,” she said through tears.

Lopez never considered dropping out of school. In years prior, she had struggled with health issues and a drug problem. When she eventually enrolled in college in 2019 with financial assistance from CalWorks, she retained a 3.6 GPA.

“I believe that 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 am I going?”

Lopez will graduate at the end of next semester and plans to be a drug and alcohol counselor. She plans to get her bachelor’s of arts degree in social work. Read article by LATimes here