Finding a place on campus for students

Assembly Bill 302 looks to address nearly one in five homeless community college students in the system

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About one in 20 community college students experience some type of homelessness, according to a recent report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's office and The Hope Center for College.
About one in 20 community college students experience some type of homelessness, according to a recent report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's office and The Hope Center for College.

Recently, a Palo Alto Assembly member has introduced a bill aimed at making community college easier to attend for students who are homeless by allowing them to sleep in their cars in campus parking lots.

If passed, this Assembly Bill 302 would require California community colleges to grant overnight access to campus parking facilities for homeless students to sleep in their vehicles. The students must be enrolled in coursework, has paid enrollment fees if not waived and is in good standing with the community college.

A recent report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that of 40,000 students surveyed at 57 community colleges, 19 percent experienced homelessness in the previous 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,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman, who represents the 24th district. “We can no longer pretend that community college student homelessness isn’t a crisis-we have the data that clearly says it is.”

Berman is advocating for AB 302 because of student testimonies he heard at state informational hearings about the struggles of homeless students, including having to sleep in cars due to the high cost of housing.

“I do think this bill should pass and that’s my personal opinion,” said Delta Police Sergeant John Bock. “From a police department standpoint, we are absolutely concerned with potential security issues. Homelessness has become an epidemic and something must be done. The concerns that we do have though come into play with the safety of the individuals and the campus in general. Those students will become inherently more vulnerable. The reality is it’ll be difficult to enforce if people don’t follow A, B and C.”

Bock said  if this were to pass, those students who would like to sleep in their cars on campus would have to sign liability forms. 

He is also concerned by the staffing issues from a security standpoint and what it means for Delta’s campus police. 

Colleges would have to address these issues before implementation:

Would they have to hire more people or switch some officers from the day shift to the night shift to suffice? Would the redistribution of resources cause unexpected issues elsewhere in the long run?

“I see community colleges as needing to serve the students that come to their campus and that means holistically,” said Vice President of Instruction Dr. James Todd. “So we know we already have students that have lived out of their vehicles, who could not afford housing or other things that are basic necessities. So, I’m hopeful this could become something that could help the students that come to Delta. What I’m just as optimistic about, in terms of supporting students, is financial aid reform. Senate Bill 291 is about that which is making sure that we take into account the true cost for a California Community College student. If you go to a UC or a CSU, you’re guaranteed different kinds of financial aid packages which sometimes makes the true cost at a CSU or UC cheaper than at a community college. I am in full support of it.”

Todd is in favor of AB 302 passing — however he would like to help students gain housing before resorting to them having to live out of their cars.

“AB 302 was first proposed by students through the Student Senate of California Community Colleges,” said ASDC Senator of Legislative Affairs Colm Fitzgerald. “The help AB 302 and impact it’ll have will be ultimately more profound than any dangers that could come from it. It’s by no means a permanent solution. (Senate Bill) SB 291 is a more permanent solution.”

Senate Bill 291, which was also introduced recently, calls for a reformulation of how financial aid is distributed to students at community colleges. It would consider the true cost of going to a community college and grant financial aid for not just tuition but also food, housing, transportation and more.

Delta also just recently opened a food pantry on campus for students which grants students who are enrolled a certain amount of points every semester which they can redeem to get food.