Entrance to California State University San Marcos.
Entrance to California State University San Marcos. Photo by Chris Stone

California has some of the most expensive rents in the nation. Current federal programs are not enough, and many college students are struggling to compete with an over-saturated rental market. 

A survey of 167,000 college students nationwide in 2019 found 17% had been homeless in the prior year and 46% faced housing insecurity. Unfortunately, there has been little research into this issue due to the fact that we are not keeping track of the college students affected by homelessness.

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Our colleges and universities are not required to keep track of homeless students attending their campuses, leaving us only with surveys and the reported numbers from Federal Application for Free Student Aid applications.

In the 2018-2019 FAFSA application process, 41,150 students were identified as homeless or at risk. There were an additional 28,883 applications where housing status remained unknown because no determination was made.

These homeless students are known as the “invisible millions” by the National Center for Homelessness Education.

This student population is struggling with school, not because of an inability to learn, but because of the stress that comes with homelessness. Their day includes attending class, completing assignments, studying for exams, working when they can, possibly going hungry, and then having to find shelter for the night.

They are having a hard time connecting with their peers, establishing caring relationships, focusing on school, and having access to any assistance due to the high population of homeless individuals of all ages.

But there is no need to make them run around looking for agencies, shelters, or assistance programs outside of their day-to-day environment. That’s because our campuses are already equipped with shelter, water, a safe environment, and a community that cares about them. 

It’s time to help these homeless students who are attempting to better themselves. Let’s show the “invisible millions” they are more than just an unknown number. They are part of our community and we can do more. Let’s show them we are here for them, and we are willing to work as hard as they are until they reach the light at the end of the tunnel. 

We need to create a program at community colleges and universities similar to Assembly Bill 891, the “safe parking” bill, which unfortunately wasn’t signed into law. This program could provide safe parking locations within the campus, on-site security, bathroom facilities, a common area, and appropriate rules and regulations for participants and staff.

The program should be available to any student attending post-secondary school and their families, not just those foster youth who are already given preferential housing under Assembly Bill 1228. This program would remove a load of stress from at-risk students and eventually end student homelessness entirely. 

Call it the “Safe Parking Program for Post-Secondary Education.” It should provide students with the tools and resources to help them overcome the struggle and stress. And it can build on the work of local agencies providing assistance, COVID-19 relieve programs, rental assistance programs and CalWORKs. 

Let’s fight for this much needed law by uniting together. Let’s petition for this law to be enacted and let’s stand together for the “invisible millions.” Let’s make them visible in the eyes of the law and give them a place in our community.

It’s time to let California lawmakers know our concerns. Make your voice heard by contacting Joseph Castro, Chancellor of the California State University system, Gov. Gavin Newsom and your state legislators.

Kimberly Manecke is a senior at California State University San Marcos majoring in social sciences.