A California assembly bill that would allow homeless community college students to sleep on campus overnight was pulled from legislation after the assemblyman who introduced it felt other lawmakers were stigmatizing homeless college students.
The bill, which was a possible solution to California’s housing crisis, would allow homeless students to park overnight on campus. Sponsored by democratic assemblyman Marc Berman of Palo Alto, AB-302 would apply to students in good standing with their college.
Berman introduced the bill in January. In August he withdrew AB-302 because he felt that the proposals amended in it would ultimately weaken it, according to the SLO Tribune.
With the bill withdrawn, community colleges are not required to offer overnight camping to its students. This withdrawal leaves homeless students at a possible disadvantage.
Sawyer Sackett is a Cuesta College student who started the Association of Students Living in Vehicles (ASLV) and chooses to live in his van because of the local housing crisis.
The ASLV’s main priorities include helping homeless students find resources, and finding more resources for those students.
Sackett’s goal is to push for the Cuesta College administration to start providing more services to homeless students. He believes that will happen once more people join the association and find out what services are the most needed.
Despite AB-302 not being added to the legislation, there are laws created to give homeless students resources. Assembly Bill 1995 requires students to have access to shower facilities.
“Of all the people I know who live in their cars all of us are extremely grateful to have that resource, because if you’re living in your van you don’t want to always present like you’re living in your car,” Sackett said. “The showers are a huge, huge benefit. I know a lot of us use it and we’re very tidy about using it and making sure we’re very respectful of that space.”
Cuesta offers more than just showering facilities. According to Cuesta’s Homeless Student Resources web page, CaFE offers free “hygiene packets (soap, toothbrush/toothpaste, comb, brush, soap, towels, cotton balls, first aid kits, chapstick & Kleenex), scarf, hats, backpacks, laundry soap, feminine products, rain coats, and gift cards to fast food restaurants (limited).”
These services are available to enrolled Cuesta students. CaFE is located in room 3142 on SLO campus and building 1100 on North County campus.
Other services provided by Cuesta include the Cougar Food Pantry and the Food Bank distribution to help mitigate the food insecurity that homeless students may face.
The Cougar Food Pantry offers a variety of food to students who log in with their Student ID number.
The pantry has seen 160 to 170 visits a day this semester, according to a report from the Association of Students at Cuesta College president Lindsey Bachman during a October 2 Board of Trustees meeting.
“I know for sure that every time I am in there I see at least one person I know that is also living out of their car,” Sackett said. “It’s definitely a resource that all the people I know that live out of their cars at Cuesta are using”.
The Food Bank distribution is offered monthly and provides students both one bag each of pantry food and produce. The only requirement is that students must certify that they meet USDA income guidelines by signing in. No ID or proof of income is required to participate.
Despite these resources offered to students, Sackett and other members of the Association of Students Living in Vehicles are hoping to see more offered by Cuesta College.
Safe overnight parking and laundry facilities are currently among the top priorities.
Cuesta does not allow overnight parking to its students, according to a Feb. article by the SLO Tribune.
Sackett said that as a student, and not as a ASCC student voice, it is his understanding that Cuesta College does not want overnight parking because of possible liability issues. This is why Sackett wants to find a grant that would allow security to be on campus overnight as well.
Donna Howard, Cuesta’s Student Support Resolution Coordinator, is a part of the team that is making sure students are aware and receiving the resources available to them.
One of Howard’s job is to help students find housing. She describes that some of the living situations are outside-the-box thinking.
Some examples of housing include staying on local campgrounds, or Camp SLO for $5 a night.
Howard credits Cuesta College’s administration for trying to find different options with local housing.
Cuesta College conducted a survey during spring 2019 titled, “Your home, your voice.” The goal was to understand Cuesta’s homeless student demographic.
The survey found that of the 8,000 students it was sent to, 1,100 responded. Of that 1,100, 40 identified as homeless Hoaward said.
According to Howard, more students did not consider themselves homeless, but when they explained they’re living situation by legal definitions, they would be homeless.
“I think it should be clear that our (Cuesta) first goal is that our students be successful in their classes,” Howard said. “And addressing housing is a societal problem and its way too big of a problem for Cuesta, but Cuesta is open and willing to work with everyone in the community to work out a solution. We just can’t do it on our own.”