At Long Beach City College, a nearly 100-year-old community college south of Los Angeles, at least eight students have been given permission to sleep in their cars in a campus parking facility, as part of an official campus program to help college students who cannot afford a place to live.
The college parking garage, which has a security guard, wifi, and bathrooms nearby, is seen as a safer alternative to students sleeping in their cars on the street, where fears of being robbed or written up by the police make it even more difficult for them to succeed at school. At least 98 students enrolled at the school are known to be experiencing homelessness this semester, according to the college’s basic needs program manager, with at least 25 of them living in their cars.
Housing insecurity is a problem on college campuses across the US, but it’s particularly problematic in California, a state marked by extreme inequality and a staggering housing crisis.
The rising cost of rent is a struggle for students in every part of California’s educational system, including at public universities with multibillion dollar endowments: in a 2017 survey conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, about 10% of students, including 20% of post-doctoral students, said they had experienced homelessness.
But the crisis hits hardest at California’s community colleges, which enroll nearly 2 million students each year, making them the largest system of higher education in the country. Community colleges offer themselves as the pathway to higher-paying, more stable careers, particularly for students who come from families without many financial resources. But the latest statewide survey, published in 2019, found that 19% of California community college students had experienced homelessness in the past year, and 60% had experienced some kind of housing insecurity. Black students, indigenous students, and LGBTQ students, especially transgender students, were at higher risk of housing insecurity than their peers.
Enrolled students who are homeless can sleep in their cars at LBCC’s Pacific Coast campus parking structure.
When Majeedah Wesley was LBCC’s student body vice-president in 2014, she was living in a youth homeless shelter in Hollywood, about two hours away from campus by public transit.
Many of the people she told about her living situation were astonished. “You’re homeless? A really high-functioning college student?” Wesley recalled.