Long Beach City College has launched a pilot program to create safe overnight parking for students living in their cars, a move designed to offer some kind of emergency assistance to the most vulnerable.
From 22:00 to 7:00, up to 15 students will be able to enter the campus garage under the supervision of security guards and gain access to Wi-Fi, electricity and toilets, and from 6:00 to 8:00 on campus showers. … Two students who refused to speak signed up. Nine more have applied.
This is the first step towards providing immediate assistance to community college students who live in cars. At the moment, about 68 students have been identified. More than 15,700 people in Los Angeles County live in their cars every night, according to Safe Parking LA, an organization that will act as an advisor to the college’s program.
The program also reflects the deep need of many college students in Long Beach City and elsewhere to pursue higher education despite great difficulties.
“This is not just a long-term solution for students,” said Long Beach County Acting Chief Mike Muñoz. “All students participating in the secure parking program can receive case management services through our office for basic needs. We are looking for ways to rid them of homelessness.
The LBCC reported that at least 199 students identified themselves through the Student Emergency Fund application as chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for over a year.
About 1,000 of the 20,000 students who took part in the preliminary survey have not had a stable or permanent home at some point in the past five months. About 3,000 people said they had difficulty paying bills, including rent, over the past six months.
The program was largely modeled after a California Assembly bill passed by the state Senate last year that offered a statewide overnight parking program for homeless students across California’s 116-campus community college system. The bill fell through mainly due to liability concerns and funding issues.
However, Muñoz supported the intentions of the bill and believed that some kind of temporary emergency assistance was needed – even a safe parking space.
“I think it will take some schools with the courage to do that,” he said, noting that additional concerns about the failed bill among community college leaders were related to security issues.
Muñoz described the parking program as part of a multi-pronged approach to help students fight homelessness now and in the future.
“We need to have a strategy for students who are in a housing crisis,” he said. “Safe parking is a short-term response for students living in unsafe housing and needing support at the moment.”
An interim solution could 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 to three years.
LBCC officials ask students looking for a place to complete an emergency application and enroll in at least nine college departments. Students are also required to have current car registration and insurance, a requirement that might be a hindrance for some, Muñoz said, so the college is also partnering with the LBCC Foundation’s Homeless Student Associative Group to consider additional support.
Patricia Lopez, 34, is one of the LBCC homeless students. Fleeing domestic violence in December, she and her 12-year-old daughter lived for months in their car or in a friend’s van without electricity and rolling around on the couch at different friends’ homes, while continuing to work and attend classes as her daughter did distance learning.
“It was a testing period in my life,” Lopez said. “I didn’t have money for a shower, I didn’t have food, I couldn’t cook,” she said, adding that all of her and her daughter’s belongings remained in their car all the time.
She tried to do better for her daughter, but she felt inadequate and unmotivated.
When she found herself getting depressed last semester, she confessed to the professor that she was struggling with her. The professor introduced her to the LBCC basic needs staff who helped her with food and hygiene products and put her in touch with Hovenes. 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 a night parking program like the LBCC program may provide some stability for students in similar situations.
Muñoz said the LBCC program will be evaluated at the end of June. Muñoz hopes that the data gathered about the program following a board of trustees’ discussion of the Assembly bill could inspire other colleges to pursue similar initiatives.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, data on student homelessness was not regularly tracked, Muñoz said, but Hispanic and black students were disproportionately affected.
Last year, a report from the UCLA School Transformation Center found that homelessness among K-12 students, as well as UCLA, UCLA and community college students, has grown 50% over the past decade, and is believed to be that the pandemic be a key driver. The study found that one in five local college students were homeless.
In Los Angeles County, 74% of homeless students were Hispanic and 12% black.
For students like Lopez, home security is of the utmost importance to her and her daughter.
“We used to live in a mobile home with no electricity, water or toilet – my child was dirty. I never want to make her go through this again. She’s too precious for this world, ”she said through her tears.
Lopez never thought about dropping out of school. She used to have health and drug problems. When she eventually went to college in 2019 with financial support 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]… For me, education is really more important than work, ”she said. “Because if I work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life, where will I go?”
Lopez will graduate at the end of next semester and plans to become a drug and alcohol consultant. She plans to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work.