San Jose State University students say the school is failing to provide emergency housing for those in need.
The university agreed this week to extend its one-semester, 12-bed emergency program indefinitely, but students say they have to jump through hoops to receive services.
“Requiring students to take out loans is making it impossible to get an emergency bed,” Lana Gomez, president of the Student Homeless Alliance, said at a news conference on campus Wednesday.
Gomez claims the school told her to maximize her loans in order to receive emergency housing, which is why only one bed has been used this semester with more than 100 students asking for housing. She said the university must end this policy.
She said the university agreed to give students 48 hours of emergency shelter before asking them to maximize their loans, but thinks that’s not good enough.
In 2021, there were at least 4,000 unhoused students, about 11% of the student body, said SJSU professor Scott Myers-Lipton. The problem is getting worse. A recent survey revealed 41.5% of respondents experienced housing insecurity.
“We have to get it right for these students,” he told San José Spotlight.
Students can apply for a bed through SJSU Cares, a program dedicated to helping students receive basic needs. The Student Homeless Alliance has fought for years to have beds provided for homeless students.
University spokesperson Kenneth Mashinchi said SJSU does not require students to take out a loan to receive short-term emergency housing.
“If students require a long-term housing solution, our SJSU Cares case managers work with the student to develop an action plan to ensure an educational funding plan is in place,” he told San José Spotlight. “In some cases, this may include the common practice of taking out loans to pay for expenses, like housing, that are part of the college investment.”
SJSU Cares, which provides resources and services for students facing financial crisis, received 184 requests for assistance in 2020-21 and 156 requests this fall, with 103 being for housing and homeless resources. Mashinchi said between July and September, the university provided 85 days of temporary emergency housing: 60 through University Housing Services and 25 using a hotel voucher program.
According to a 2020 agreement between the university and Student Homeless Alliance, all students who ask for a bed are supposed to receive one.
“It’s impossible to achieve this with the existing student loan policy,” Gomez said, adding that three women told her they are at risk of dropping out because of it.
Making it even more difficult for students seeking assistance are questions regarding citizenship. Student Sammi Shinagawa said this shouldn’t be required of students seeking safe places to sleep.
“The basic needs of the student body should be prioritized,” she said. “Instead of broken promises, we want to see action towards change, hard dates, open communication with our students and efforts made towards helping the struggling population of housing insecure at San Jose State that is ever growing.”
Mashinchi said the university asks citizenship status to determine if students who are undocumented might qualify for additional help.
The Student Homeless Alliance is also asking for a total restructuring of a committee that assesses student needs, exit interviews showing why students were denied services, a new SJSU Cares website and a mobile app.
“If we had an exit interview, we could understand why over 100 students asked for housing at SJSU Cares so far this semester but only one bed has been utilized,” Shinagawa said. “We have no idea why students are being denied their basic needs or if they’re getting the help that they require… or how effective our efforts have been.”
The alliance previously demanded 10 safe overnight parking spaces and grants for students for emergency housing. A 2019 San José Spotlight report revealed the university offered emergency housing to only six students.
Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center, said California requires housing first for any institution that receives state funding, but the university isn’t doing that.
“An emergency shelter should be full,” she said. “What’s the purpose of keeping your center empty? To make the homeless disappear. This university is trying to tell you they have no homeless students.”
Harlan said asking homeless students to maximize loans means they accrue debt and are still homeless.
“We’ve seen more homeless graduate who’ve maximized loans here than any other school,” she said. “You can’t require loans for people who are homeless.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]