Capital Tracker: Bill would let students sleep in cars at community college campuses

College of the Redwoods has an on-campus food pantry at the Eureka campus to provide students who may experience food insecurity a way to get fresh food. A new bill would allow community college students to sleep in cars overnight in campus parking lots if they are homeless. (CR — Contributed)
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A bill that would require community colleges to grant overnight access to parking facilities for homeless students passed an Assembly committee last week and was referred to an appropriations committee.

Assembly Bill 302 directly addresses findings from a recent report that nearly 1 in 5 community college students experienced homelessness in the past year.

“The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now, and when we don’t provide a safe place for them to sleep, we force them into the shadows — into dark alleys and industrial parks — where they are most vulnerable,” said Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto). “We can no longer pretend that community college student homelessness isn’t a crisis — we have the data that clearly says it is. Shame on us if we turn our backs on these students and choose to ignore them.”

AB 302 would require community colleges to implement a plan that allows an enrolled student who is in good standing with the college to park overnight in a campus lot. As part of the plan, accessible bathroom facilities are also mandated.

College of the Redwoods is ahead of the curve in its offerings to students who experience housing and food insecurity. According to Kintay Johnson, director of special programs who is working on a three- to five-year plan for the community college, one aspect of the path forward includes the implementation of a parking lot that would allow students access for overnight stays.

“We’re writing a 3-5 year plan that is going to eradicate food insecurity as well as housing insecurity,” he said. “One of the activities is, of course, dependent on AB 302 — one of the goals is to allow for on-campus parking.”

Johnson said at any given time about 30 to 40 CR students are deemed homeless, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are living in their cars. The students could be “couch surfing” or staying with friends.

He stressed that overnight parking is not allowed.

“There is no overnight camping period,” he said. “For anyone.”

Joe Hash, the school’s vice president of student development, said the bill pushed CR to act on the issue.

“We have been aware that our students are living in vehicles,” Hash said Monday afternoon. “We’ve been looking into this for a while. This bill has put that to the forefront.”

Overnight parking is not the only service the school is working to provide to students who face homelessness and hunger issues: There is a food pantry on campus, there are restroom facilities open at all hours and students can drop off laundry to be done, Johnson said.

Johnson said that CR students’ rate of housing insecurity is on par with the recent state report, noting the local rate is 18 to 20 percent. But he added that it is trending up.

“Last year, we estimated 15 to 16 percent,” he said. “It’s a 2 to 3 percent increase since we started tracking this information.”

He believes that there has always been a portion of the student population that’s struggled with housing and food security.

“From being on the ground, I think we’ve always had this population here locally,” Johnson said. “We’ve always had a population that was experiencing housing insecurity. What we did not always have was the awareness.”

Hash added the school’s goal is to help students while they are in the learning environment.

“We’re trying not to leave any of our students behind at any of our locations,” he said.

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