University of the streets

Letting college students sleep in their cars may be a stopgap strategy as lawmakers search for more permanent solutions

Many California college students are struggling to find a stable home.

Within the past year, one in 20 UC students, one in 10 CSU students and one in five community college students have reported some form of homelessness, said California Homeless Youth Project Director Shahera Hyatt. Hyatt blamed this in part on the lack of affordable housing in the state, including Sacramento. The capital city has also seen some of the country’s highest rent increases in recent years, Hyatt added.

“I live in Midtown Sacramento, and my rent has increased $350 a month over the last two years,” Hyatt said.

Under Assembly Bill 801, California State University and community college campuses are required to designate on-campus liaisons for homeless students and “former foster youth,” according to an April 2019 report by the California Homeless Youth Project and the ACLU Foundation of California. But these liaison positions are typically unpaid, and added onto a separately funded position with different responsibilities, Hyatt said.

Some temporary resources for homeless students are offered at Sacramento State University. Danielle Muñoz, the university’s student affairs case manager, coordinates the Emergency Housing Program, which gives students 30 days to stay in residence halls with beds, laundry supplies and a meal plan.

Those students must be enrolled in at least six units. Students with semester parking permits “can be issued an overnight parking permit at no additional cost,” Muñoz said in an email.

“We created this program with a focus on accessibility, being low-barrier, and trauma-informed,” Muñoz wrote.

This comes in light of Assembly Bill 302, revised May 16, which would require community colleges to let homeless students sleep in their cars in on-campus parking facilities. Hyatt cited the bill as a potential “harm-reduction strategy” that could give students better access to homelessness resources.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Palo Alto Democrat who introduced the bill, said it “passed out of the Assembly with tremendous bipartisan support.” The Senate Education Committee will vote on the bill “in the coming weeks,” he added.