SJSU President denies students’ requests for homeless support

Update: Student Homeless Alliance members say they are disappointed with SJSU President Mary Papazian’s response to their demands during their much-anticipated meeting with the administration Tuesday.

“They pretty much rejected our ideas and said they’re looking into more long-term, sustainable solutions,”  SHA President Mayra Bernabe told San José Spotlight after the meeting.

The administration reportedly stated that they were committed to “housing every Spartan,” but did not provide clarity on what that would look like, students said.

SHA member Alejandro Mayorga added that although the students were assured that the school would look into a safe parking pilot program back in July they reportedly decided since then that it would be inhumane to allow students to sleep in their cars on campus.

After further reflection, Bernabe added that although the group had been disappointed they hadn’t viewed the meeting as a total loss.

“We are glad that the SJSU administration has committed to help and house all students in need,” she said. “We are looking forward to continuing to advocate for students, to ensure they contact SJSU cares and receive all the resources necessary. We are not stopping here. There is much work to do.”

While carrying bright neon signs through San Jose State University’s campus Monday, members of the school’s Student Homeless Alliance drew attention to a growing population of students who are struggling to secure shelter while earning their degrees.

As roughly 30 students made their early-afternoon march they chanted some of their demands.

“What do we want?”

“Housing.”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

The students have pushed to meet with SJSU President Mary Papazian for months, and they finally scored a meeting on Tuesday to discuss solutions to Silicon Valley’s growing problem of student homelessness.

Students cited a recent study by the California State University Chancellor’s office that found 13.2 percent of SJSU students experienced homelessness in the past year — a number they said is far too high.

At least two formerly homeless students attended the rally and shared their personal stories.

Fourth year sociology student Quenia Cruz said she had been homeless on and off, but recently found herself without shelter after her apartment burned down.

The SJSU Cares program provided her with a bed in a dorm for two weeks, but she was on her own after that. She survived by living out of her car parked off campus. Cruz shouldered the stigma of being homeless along with finding a place to shower and brush her teeth — amenities most people in shelters take for granted.

Cruz told the crowd gathered on campus Monday that there needs to be a broader discussion about homelessness.

“When we talk about homelessness we don’t often think about college students,” she said.

And yet, the 13 percent homeless statistic translates to roughly 4,300 students who are couch surfing, sleeping out of their cars, on benches or even inside the campus library.

SHA president Mayra Bernabe said the students sleep on various floors of the library, which is open 24 hours except Fridays and Saturdays.

Bernabe said the number of homeless students sleeping in the library is unknown. The students take showers in the gym, use campus outlets to charge their phones and receive free food from the Just In Time Food mobile pantry when it comes to campus once a month.

The students say this is not enough and outlined three demands before their meeting with the campus president and administration at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Their demands include a minimum of 10 parking spaces in the 7th Street parking garage for safe parking — an increase from their July 2018 request for 5 to 7 spots, as well as at least 12 beds in the dorms for homeless students for 60 days and $2,500 in emergency grants to allow students to stay in housing if they can’t afford rent.

In a statement issued by the university administration, campus officials say they are “proactively addressing issues of homelessness and food insecurity on campus.”

The administration highlighted student meetings with the Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Day to discuss short and long-term solutions for students struggling with housing, collaboration with San Jose for additional resources and plans to add an additional 900 beds to the campus in the coming years.

Scott Myers-Lipton, a sociology professor at the campus and adviser for SHA, said Tuesday’s meeting will be a success if the students come out with a clear understanding of the school’s plans and if their three requests are met.

“Why can’t we support our students with the basics?” he asked. “Food and housing. It’s a fair ask.”

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

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