San Jose State activists amplify the call to house homeless students
Photo courtesy of SJSU's Student Homeless Alliance.

Fired up by revelations revealed in a San José Spotlight report that San Jose State University housed only six homeless students in the last year, a group of student activists are calling attention to the growing trend of student homelessness and say they have plans to host a statewide conference later in the fall.

“This definitely solidified a statewide conference we had been talking about,” Student Homeless Alliance member Alejandro Mayorga told San José Spotlight on Monday. “We’re ready to work with other community colleges, other UCs and Cal States.”

The students plan to gather at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Tommie Smith and John Carlos statues on campus for a news conference to bring awareness to the issue. The event is expected to include a variety of speakers including the NAACP’s Rev. Jeff Moore as well as students who have experienced homelessness.

The students have outlined five items they believe should be part of a university housing plan: To define homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act parameters, which includes couch-surfing and living in a car, and up to $4,000 grants for any San Jose State student who might become homeless because they can’t afford rent. The students are also calling for subsidized rent for previously homeless students and those who are extremely low-income, as well as dedicated housing for extremely low-income students on new campus housing and emergency loans after a bed and grant have been provided.

Mayorga said SHA students felt left out when they read in the San José Spotlight article that the administration had a plan in the works to announce a new initiative in the fall to help house homeless students.

“It was a little discouraging because we were ready to collaborate with (the administration),” Mayorga said. “When we met with (Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Day) he said we had good ideas and we should collaborate.”

So they’ve decided to take action on their own, beginning with this week’s news conference and plans for a statewide conference Mayorga says they hope to host at San Jose State in late November.

Mayorga added that the alliance has been in communication with several universities, including the University of California Los Angeles.

Scott Myers-Lipton, the faculty adviser to the alliance, says the students have attempted to collaborate with the administration for months on housing solutions only to feel like they’re not being told the full story.

University spokeswoman Robin McElhatton on Monday said the administration wants to do more than just house students temporarily — it is working toward long-term solutions. “Because SJSU Cares begins services by assessing each student’s needs to understand the best approach toward sustainable housing, we look at a more comprehensive solution,” McElhatton said. “In other words, the goal is not just ‘a bed,’ but rather sustainable housing.”

Of the 189 students who reached out to the university for help last year, McElhatton said, 84 of them specifically needed housing. As previously reported by this news organization, six students were housed that year.

But McElhatton added that the university gave 53 students additional financial aid grants with an average award amount of $1,107; 18 students were given emergency assistance funds with an average award of $789; and 21 students were awarded financial aid loans — 12 accepted — with an average loan loan amount of $3,329.

In the last few weeks, Myers-Lipton says he’s heard from students who are struggling to find safe housing. One student sleeps in the student union because she feels unsafe in her car at night and another student bounced between parking her recreational vehicle at two different parks before finding a garage that charges $1,500 per month.

“All of those students come into my office telling me their stories,” Myers-Lipton said Monday.

Administration officials say they’ve been putting in a lot of work to address the crisis. The alliance members say they want to help. “They want their ideas included because they’ve been thinking a lot about it,” Myers-Lipton said.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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