Study finds 19 percent of community college students in California are homeless
Nineteen percent of students attending California’s community college system have experienced homelessness in the last year, while 60 percent have experienced recent housing insecurity and 50 percent have struggled with food insecurity, according to a report released Thursday, March 7.
The study, conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University’s College of Education in Philadelphia, surveyed nearly 40,000 students at 57 community colleges during the fall semesters of 2016 and 2018.
If the survey’s numbers are projected statewide, as many as 400,000 community college students could be homeless, said Sara Goldrick-Rab, lead author of the report. She said the study’s findings are consistent with prior reports including one done in Los Angeles County two years ago.
Conducting the survey has been challenging in itself because students are not forthcoming with responses due to the stigma of homelessness, Goldrick-Rab said.
“Only 6 percent of students said they were homeless,” she said. “The other 13 percent indicated their homelessness by saying where they stayed.
“The bottom line is they are not living in a place that is fit for human habitation,” she said. “And many students don’t go to shelters because these are well-educated people who don’t want to be stigmatized.”
Geographically, researchers found the highest incidence of basic needs challenges in the northern part of the state including the Sacramento area. The report found that housing and food insecurities are higher for African-American and LGBTQ students.
The number of homeless students and those who have housing insecurity is staggering and shocking, said JoAnna Schilling, president of Cypress College.
At Cypress College, about 13.7 percent are homeless according to this study, but even that, she says, is shocking in an affluent Orange County community.
The school also has a food pantry that has been active over the last two years. But, Schilling says, students are more willing to use food pantries than they are to admit they are homeless.
“It’s a very silent problem in our communities,” she said. “Most students don’t talk about it or let you know.”
Cypress College does have showers open to students who need them.
“We have a regular group of students who come in to use those,” Schilling said. “So we know they are struggling with housing.”
Her campus also has seen success stories of formerly homeless students who have overcome their adversities and succeeded academically with community support.
“The real challenge for us is to reach out to those students who have not shared their stories,” she said. “We’re always asking ourselves how we can help them with food or housing issues.”
Goldrick-Rab said students who are homeless are also the ones who are working the most, at least 30 hours a week.
There is pending legislation that aims to help homeless college students. For example, Assembly Bill 302 sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, would require the California Community College system to make its college parking system accessible overnight to any enrolled student in good standing.
State law already requires that community colleges provide homeless students access to shower facilities on campus.
“These are good, temporary solutions, but they still only put a Band-Aid on the larger problem of homelessness,” Goldrick-Rab said.
Schilling said she and others have been working with cities in the area to find these students affordable housing. Communities have a responsibility too, she said.
“We need to partner with communities to help them understand that the students who are one paycheck away from being homeless are the homeless citizens of tomorrow,” she said. “If we don’t help them get an education and jobs today, we’re going to lose them, and we’ll be paying for them later in social services.”