More students face homelessness as SJSU school year ends

As San Jose State University’s school year comes to an end and the Martin Luther King Jr. library – where countless homeless students sleep – closes for the night, university administrators have yet to come up with a plan to house the school’s homeless population.

The end of the school year also means students living in dorms must move out, another leading cause of student homelessness. And the university’s students still don’t have answers for their demands of their administration.

“I think people need to know how little the administration is doing,” said Alejandro Mayorga, 24, who will lead the Student Homeless Alliance, which has demanded dorm beds and parking spots for kids who sleep in their cars. “I think the public really needs to know that the rate of the problem is picking up and the administration is not keeping up to speed.”

Last year, the California State University Chancellor’s office released a study on student’s basic needs in the 2016-2017 school year. The report found that 13.2 percent of San Jose State students — more than 4,000 students — experienced homelessness in the year prior. That’s more than two points higher than the CSU system average of 10.9 percent.

Since then, university administrators have been mum on the issue, though President Mary Papazian has pledged to “house every Spartan.”

Papazian through a spokesperson denied San José Spotlight’s multiple requests for an interview.

The Student Homeless Alliance has petitioned for at least 10 parking spots for homeless students to sleep in their cars overnight, at least 12 dorm beds for homeless students for at least 60 days and $2,500 emergency grants to help students struggling to pay rent.

“What we’re asking for is not too much,” Mayorga said. “It’s not a lot, actually.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office has committed to helping SJSU students by partnering with the university. Liccardo said in a budget proposal earlier this year that he wants to jump-start a safe parking program for the school and help fund more student housing. And four other City Council members have publicly called on Papazian to partner with the city to address the university’s homeless student crisis.

Liccardo reiterated his willingness to help the university get a handle on its growing student homeless problem.

“We know the housing crisis is affecting thousands of residents — including so many of our young people — and we want to help,” Liccardo said in an email statement. “We’ll persist in our efforts to build more affordable housing to combat the crisis at large, and also continue engaging in conversation with San Jose State University to determine how we work together to house our city’s students.”

But Mayorga said he hasn’t seen much movement from the SJSU administration on a partnership with the city.

“Both sides are willing to do it, but really only the city leaders have offered some plans on what that could look like,” Mayorga said. “The administration hasn’t really offered that yet.”

Devin, a graduate student who asked to remain anonymous, slept in the library at least two nights a week during the Spring semester. He lives in an apartment a few hours away from San Jose, but without a car to get to school, the financial burdens of moving closer to San Jose or buying a car is too much to handle.

So instead, he sleeps in the library and with friends. The “semi-homeless” life has been affecting his studies, he said.

“I think probably living in the library has made it a little more difficult,” Devin said. “There’s some days where I just can’t focus on discussion.”

The solutions offered by the administration included two beds for homeless students and services from SJSU Cares, a university program designed to help students facing financial crises.

Devin said he’d rather tough it out at the library after class because staying with friends makes him feel like a burden.

With at least another year of school left, he doesn’t know what the future holds. “I don’t know where I’ll be living,” he said. “I live in the library, I don’t have the solutions. I’m just as lost as most people.”

And now with summer break starting, the library closes at 9 p.m. or earlier, instead of staying open all night.

Student organizers are hoping the university extends a helping hand to homeless students by repurposing the Alfred E. Alquist state government building in downtown San Jose for campus community affordable housing — especially since the university plans to demolish its Washburn Hall dorms, leaving many of those students without alternate housing.

When those dorms come down, “It’s going to exacerbate the problem,” according to Scott Myers-Lipton, a sociology professor and advisor to the Student Homeless Alliance.

And the problems for homeless students are only getting worse, he said, with little to no help from the university’s administration.

“We’re actually going in the wrong direction. We’re not even maintaining the status quo,” Myers-Lipton said. “It’s very confusing. We’re almost left in a state of confusion.”

Grace Hase and Mauricio La Plante contributed to this report.

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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