Free food for community college students
A needy student picks up free groceries at Mount San Antonio College’s mobile food pantry. Photo courtesy of of the college

Homelessness among California’s college students has reached crisis level.

Facing mounting housing costs and a burgeoning affordable housing shortage, tens of thousands of college students across the state are experiencing homelessness or the imminent threat of it.

Students from lower-income households are already at a huge disadvantage. Those among the bottom 20 percent of earners are seven times less likely to graduate. With more jobs than ever requiring a degree, addressing the issue of student homelessness is not only a humanitarian one, but an economic one as well.

State lawmakers have partially acknowledged the issue by proposing a one-time investment of $10 million in California Community Colleges and another $3 million for the California State University and University of California systems to alleviate student food insecurity.

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It’s a necessary drop in the bucket, but doesn’t even begin to go far enough to address the root causes of hunger and homelessness among the student population. Senate Bill 568 digs deeper.

Introduced by Senators Anthony J. Portantino of La Canada Flintridge and Richard Roth of Riverside in February, SB 568 aims to help California’s students gain the education they need to succeed. The bill would establish the College-Focused Rapid Response Rehousing Program across the participating community college, CSU and UC systems to provide homeless students with housing options and support services to help students transitioning into stable housing remain in college. It also earmarks funding to:

  • Maximize financial aid for homeless students
  • Establish connections between schools and their local homeless continuum of care

With the passage of SB 568, we’ll take a step in the right direction. Student homelessness is a critical issue that needs our leaders’ continued attention and action.

According to a recent survey, nearly 20 percent of the Los Angeles Community College District’s 230,000 students experienced an episode of homelessness in the past year. While in percentage terms CSU and UC fared somewhat better — with 11 percent (or about 47,000 students) and 5 percent (11,000 students) reporting an incident of homelessness, respectively — California’s housing crisis is devastating its students.

Former foster youth suffer homelessness at disproportionate rates compared to the general population. Helping these students finish school, get jobs and establish themselves as productive adults would break the cycle of child abuse and poverty they’re trying desperately to overcome.

As a provider of extensive services to foster youth throughout Southern California, Walden Family Services applauds this proposed legislation and calls upon our leaders to quickly pass SB 568. Our state’s college students should be focused on their studies, not worried where their next place to sleep will be.

Teresa Stivers is CEO of Walden Family Services, a San Diego-based nonprofit that provides foster care and adoption services for children and families throughout Southern California as well as transitional housing and programs for youth who have aged out of the foster care system.