New state efforts tackle homelessness among community college students

College students and other adult youths who are facing homelessness join Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in his announcement of new state initiatives to address the issue. (Photo: Courtesy of the office of Gov. Charlie Baker)

As part of a comprehensive statewide plan to address youth homelessness in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has announced a pilot program to house a small group of homeless community college students at nearby four-year colleges and universities.  Up to 20 homeless students at four community colleges will receive dormitory housing through partnerships with nearby four-year institutions.

“We look forward to working with our community colleges and state universities to implement this program to give students a stable place to live so they can thrive academically and have access to the necessary supports in their own communities that will help them continue their path to self-sufficiency,” Baker said in announcing the program Thursday at Framingham State University.

In Massachusetts, it is estimated that there are at least 1,800 young adults every year who experience homelessness, according to the state’s Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness. Among unaccompanied homeless youth, students who are enrolled in the state’s colleges and universities represent a population of unique interest and growing concern, according to the state.

One step up

The pilot launched among the following four partnerships earlier this month:

Quinsigamond Community College President Luis Pedraja said offering housing to these students will help them overcome a major hurdle to staying in college and succeeding.

“Education is the key to self-sufficiency, and having a stable place to live and adequate nourishment will allow students to focus on their education and help change their lives,” he said.

Each of the four-year institutions will offer five beds. To participate, students must be:

  • Enrolled full-time in a public college or university participating in the pilot
  • Degree-seeking and in good academic standing as defined by home institution
  • Age 25 or younger
  • Referred by campus staff or community service provider, or self-applied

The state will reimburse campuses for the cost of the dorm beds for 18 months, including summer and semester breaks. Campuses will cover the cost of providing meals and snacks for students, with support from local service providers where available.

Massachusetts last year developed a plan to address homeless youths with recommendations that included assisting them in transitions from high school to college, and improving their education, employment and credentialing opportunities.

Sleeping in cars on campus

Meanwhile, California lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow community college students who are homeless or facing homelessness to legally sleep overnight in their cars at campus parking lots and other facilities. The legislation would provide a temporary solution as the state struggles with a housing shortage, according to Assembly member Marc Berman, a Democrat, who introduced the bill.

“Over the last two years, I’ve heard from too many students that they don’t have stable housing and often end up sleeping in their cars,” Berman said. “Unfortunately, this is all too common throughout California, with one in four community college students experiencing homelessness.” 

Assembly Bill 302 would require community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities to any homeless student who is enrolled in coursework, has paid enrollment fees, and is in good standing with the college. A bill passed in 2016 already requires community colleges in the state to give access to campus shower facilities to homeless students who meet the same qualifications.

A major concern

Providing overnight parking to homeless community college students was one of the draft recommendations released Jan. 28 by a task force of the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges that is examining housing and food insecurities faced by community college students.

In the Los Angeles Community College District, which had nearly a quarter of a million students enrolled in the 2016-17 academic year, 19 percent of students were homeless, 55 percent reported housing insecurity and 63 percent were food insecure, according to a district survey.

In the Peralta Community College District — which includes the College of Alameda, Berkeley City College, Laney College and Merritt College — 84 percent of 693 students surveyed in 2017 indicated they were homeless or faced housing insecurity, with 30 percent saying they had one or more experiences with homelessness. About 60 percent were food insecure.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.