After several years of grappling with student homelessness, San Jose State is finally offering beds on campus for students living outdoors or in their cars.
The 12-bed pilot program launched last month, provides on-campus beds for SJSU students seeking emergency housing. The beds are located in University Housing.
Students facing housing insecurity can apply for a bed through SJSU Cares, a program dedicated to helping students receive basic needs. The beds are available for just one semester.
“Student homelessness is a crisis . . . and it can go up because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton, who helped students form an alliance to fight for housing solutions. “We have to have a well-functioning student housing program here.”
The allocation of beds for homeless students comes after a long, drawn-out fight between student advocates and university leaders.
A group of students joined the Student Homeless Alliance and two years ago pressured the university to take action to address the growing crisis. The student-run organization demanded the university set aside 12 beds for homeless students, allocate a minimum of 10 parking spaces on campus for safe overnight parking and provide $2,500 in emergency grants for housing. The demands largely fell on deaf ears, despite SJSU administrators facing increasing pressure from local and state lawmakers.
A San José Spotlight report in 2019 revealed the university offered emergency housing to only six students. SJSU President Mary Papazian repeatedly declined comment on the matter.
That year San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza sent a letter to Papazian pledging their commitment to help homeless students. The students also advocated for state legislation to provide more aid to struggling students.
“For many, attending college is a mean to disrupt the cycle of poverty,” the councilors’ letter said. “But when a student has to worry about finding a place to sleep, it becomes extremely difficult for them to focus on their academics and succeed in school.”
A year later, local officials announced the university would receive more than $3 million in grants from the California State University Chancellor’s Office to come up with a plan to address the growing homelessness crisis, which included the 12-bed pilot program and rental assistance services for students facing urgent housing insecurity.
San Jose State, tucked in the heart of Silicon Valley, is home to one of the largest homeless student population.
A 2018 study found more than 50,000 students in the CSU system — about 11% — have experienced homelessness. But SJSU had one of the highest rates of homeless students in the system — 13.2%, or about 4,000 students. The CSU study found Black students and first-generation students experienced the highest levels of food insecurity and homelessness.
According to a recent basic needs survey by SJSU Cares, 41.5 % of student respondents were considered housing insecure in the past year and 11.2% were homeless for at least a day.
Myers-Lipton said students who are homeless also face crippling food insecurity. The same survey reported roughly 29% of students experience food insecurity. More students came to SJSU’s on-campus food pantry on the first day of school in August than any day last year, San José Spotlight reported.
Lana Gomez, a sociology senior and representative of the SHA, said the university isn’t doing enough to reach the students on the brink of homelessness who need immediate help.
“I wish the program was being advertised — what’s going on with it and what it’s going to look like,” Gomez told San José Spotlight. “At the moment there is not much right now.”
Gomez hopes the university meets SHA’s other demands for students, such as the safe parking program and money for students behind on rent. But in the meantime, she celebrated the victory with the 12 beds — a victory that’s been a long time coming.
“SHA has been working with SJSU for a long time to establish this 12 bed pilot program,” she said. “We wanted it to be a one-year program, but it will be one semester, for any SJSU student that is experiencing housing insecurity. We’re excited. It’s nice to get it started and running already. We’re thankful.”
Contact Stephanie Lam at [email protected] or follow @StephCLam on Twitter.