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Cuesta and Hancock College leaders support decision to withdraw car camping on campus bill

Posted at 7:05 AM, Sep 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-12 13:49:16-04

Parking lots on college campuses won't be an option for California's homeless college students any time soon, something a pair of Central Coast community college leaders hail as the right decision.

The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), would have required community colleges in California to make campus parking lots and parking structures available to homeless students who want to sleep in their vehicle.

Existing state law already requires community colleges to provide homeless students with shower facilities on campus.

Berman recently withdrew the law after a series of amendments that he said diminished the intent of the legislation. He intends to introduce what he believes is a stronger version of the bill next year.

Lawmakers wanted to amend the bill to allow some colleges to opt out of the program, to exclude colleges that are within 250 feet of an elementary school, and to delay the law from taking effect until 2021.

"Community college isn't the place to address California's housing crisis," Hancock College Pres. Kevin Walthers said.

According to Walthers, as many as 20 percent of Hancock College's 11,000 students are housing insecure.

"There's not a lot of them living in shelters but I think we have a lot of students who are one traffic ticket away from not being able to pay their rent," Walthers said.

That's the reality for 19 percent of California community college students surveyed by Hope College, a non-profit education justice organization.

The survey found one in five students in California reported experiencing homeless at some point in the past year.

But Walthers and Cuesta College Vice Pres. Mark Sanchez say the proposed law was a short term answer to a greater problem.

"It really was more of a band-aid than a solution.," Sanchez said.

Sanchez argues that car camping raises safety and security concerns. He also said campus facilities aren't currently designed for overnight use.

"Nobody is going to argue that having a place for students to sleep is a bad thing," Sanchez said. "But where it becomes challenging is then you have to have 24-hour facilities."

"In all, we calculated conservatively it would cost about half a million per year to provide that service," Walthers said.

Walthers and Sanchez said that money could better serve students by bolstering existing programs at the schools, which offer rent and food support, job search assistance, and counseling.

"We've put in a position called the student support resolution coordinator, so more and more students who have housing insecurity, food insecurity, are finding their way to that resource now," Sanchez said.

A survey of students on campus revealed about 100 of Cuesta College's 10,000 students identify as homeless, according to Sanchez, who added that there are likely additional students who did not feel comfortable identifying as homeless due to the stigma associated with that status.

Sanchez said Cuesta College has been cultivating a relationship with community partners like 40 Prado and Echo to ensure homeless students have access to shelter.

Cougar Closet on Cuesta's campus also helps low-income students find professional clothing for job interviews.

Walthers said Hancock College currently partners with CalWorks for students in need of shelter. The school also offers daycare for students with children.

RELATED: Bill would allow homeless students to sleep in cars on community college campuses