Berman and students promote safe lot legislation for homeless students

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SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) is convening a press conference to discuss Assembly Bill 302, his measure requiring community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities for homeless students to sleep in their vehicles. A recent report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, which surveyed nearly 40,000 students at 57 community colleges, found that 19% of respondents experienced homelessness in the previous year. Extrapolated to California’s community college population of 2.1 million students that means nearly 400,000 students have experienced homelessness in the last year.

“The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now, and when we don’t provide a safe place for them to sleep, we force them into the shadows – into dark alleys and industrial parks – where they are most vulnerable,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We can no longer pretend that community college student homelessness isn’t a crisis – we have the data that clearly says it is. Shame on us if we turn our backs on these students and choose to ignore them.”

As Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, Assemblymember Berman convened five informational hearings throughout the state during the 2017-2018 Legislative Session. He heard heart-wrenching stories from some students who found themselves homeless and sleeping in their cars because they could not afford the cost of housing.

“I spent about two years homeless, as a full-time worker and full-time student, with my car as my only consistent place to sleep in,” said Matthew Bodo, a student at Foothill College. “AB 302 will allow students to stay, safely, in an area where homelessness is not criminalized, and nearby to resources that California community colleges provide them.”

Assembly Bill 302 would require community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities to any homeless student that is enrolled in coursework, has paid enrollment fees if not waived, and is in good standing with the community college, without requiring the student to enroll in additional courses.

The governing board of each community college would be required to develop an implementation plan that includes, in part, an overnight parking form and liability waver, designation of a specific parking area or areas, accessible bathroom facilities, hours of operation, and overnight parking rules.

“The biggest challenge I faced when I was a student living in my car was having no safe place to park overnight where I could rest or have time to catch up on my homework,” said Anthony White, a student at Palomar College. “AB 302 requires community colleges to make a small change, but it can give students the chance at success that can be life changing.”

Further, AB 302 importantly specifies that it is the intent of the Legislature that homeless students who use the overnight parking facilities shall be connected to available state, county, community college district, and community-based housing, food, and financial assistance resources.

“Student homelessness is very real and very unfortunate,” said Iiyshaa Youngblood, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, the sponsor of AB 302. “AB 302 is not the perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction. This bill will give homeless students a semblance of relief and connect them with the necessary city, district, or county resources, which would aid the students in finding suitable housing. We have to start somewhere because our current efforts are failing our most vulnerable students.”

The bill will be heard in the Assembly Higher Education Committee later this afternoon and is also supported by the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the California School Employees Association, California YIMBY, Dreams for Change, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, LifeMoves, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Social Workers, NextGen California, and Safe Parking LA.

“AB 302 is an important step towards providing a safe, legal space for students to sleep while we work to provide adequate housing for every college student during their academic career,” said Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project. “When we have numbers of student homelessness as high as we do, we should have a bias toward action. For these reasons, we applaud Assmblymember Berman’s efforts to better serve this student community.”

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