San Jose State University student Noemi Vasquez was cruising through her freshman year when her father — who was providing financial support — got into an accident and was no longer able to pay his daughter’s rent after facing expensive medical bills.
Vasquez, who was born and raised in San Jose, says the incident occurred in spring 2019 around the time of her mid-term exams. Pretty soon she found herself homeless.
With no other options, she turned to the administration for help. Vasquez said she was told she could take out a loan but that the college didn’t have any housing options available for her. Later, in the summer, she was provided with a bed on campus for two weeks before being asked to leave, she said. Vasquez — now a sophomore — lives in her car.
Vasquez is not alone in her struggles. According to a study published by the California State University Chancellor’s office last year, 13.2 percent of San Jose State students had experienced homelessness in the previous year. It’s a challenge so common that, in the last two years, the administration has begun to step up its efforts to help the students in a variety of ways.
From the student perspective, however, the momentum isn’t picking up quite fast enough.
In early March, members of the college’s Student Homeless Alliance held a protest on campus to demand that the administration respond to the crisis in three specific ways. The demands were to provide at least 10 safe parking spaces for homeless students to leave their cars overnight, at least 12 beds in the dorms for homeless students for a period of 60 days and $2,500 in emergency grants to allow students to stay in housing if they can’t afford rent.
While those specific demands weren’t met, SJSU president Mary Papazian promised to house every Spartan.
Student Housing Alliance President Elsa Salgado said in a recent interview that the students have noted some progress, such as moving the campus’ economic emergency response team known as SJSU Cares to a more central location on campus. But, she said, they’ve been disappointed to hear that students don’t always appear to be getting the help they need — including offering only two beds for two weeks. Homeless students such as Vasquez are then put back out on the streets.
“We were shocked,” said Salgado, referring to the lack of help Vasquez said she received. “We thought she would have gotten the proper resources.”
San Jose State University President of Student Affairs Patrick Day told San José Spotlight that the university provided 14 homeless students with a bed last year, but a university spokeswoman updated that number shortly after our interview with Day to say only six students were offered emergency housing in the past year.
Those students were placed in a temporary bed for a total of 107 days. Administrators said 189 students contacted SJSU Cares over the past academic year, though they could not say how many actually requested a bed. Of those 189 students, 84 contacted SJSU Cares specifically to ask for help with housing-related resources.
Day could not say how many beds are available, though the students have said there are just two. Day said the number of beds for homeless students and their length of stay “varies based on needs.”
“What we’ve said is we’re going to be committed to providing some sort of resource to any student who comes to us,” Day said in an interview.
Day said some students require housing for a weekend while others need it for weeks, but he said most are for a month or less.
“We will give them a timeframe that seems to allow them the opportunity to do that, but we do need students to follow up on those resources,” he said. “You’re asking for help from your students to avail themselves of resources that they do have access to.”
Day dismissed the accusation that students are “getting kicked out” of the beds after two weeks and said they’re encouraged instead to seek additional help after getting settled. He added that the university is working on a bigger plan to help homeless students. The details of those plans will be revealed this fall.
The college has been in discussions with various partners including the city of San Jose to alleviate the crisis. Last year, Mayor Sam Liccardo and campus officials discussed opening up a safe parking program near the campus for students, though it hasn’t happened yet.
“This (issue) is not going away,” Day said. “We will be a part of addressing this national challenge and we will do our best to be a leader in how we address it.”
Contact Carina Woudenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @carinaew on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that 84 students contacted SJSU Cares specifically about housing-related resources.