• Justin Smith

State of Crisis | Dismantling Student Homelessness in California




The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many pre-existing inequities for California students – homelessness being one of them. Did you know that every 1 in 5 California Community College, 1 in 10 California State University, and 1 in 20 University of California students experience homelessness?


Out of these students, 9% are Black, 12% are white, and 70% are Latinx. According to the survey, because of student homelessness, most California students are most likely to be suspended and miss significant college and university time because of which they end up dropping out. Keep reading to learn more.


Challenges for Students Experiencing Homelessness


Understanding students' perspective is essential to learn how homelessness can leave a mark on their lives:


1. Lack of Early Mentorship and Stability Fuels a Sense of Isolation and Distrust


Many of the students reported that they struggled to identify caretakers and mentors in their lives. While some were able to build stable relationships, the majority said that due to student homelessness, they faced challenges in finding people they could trust and asking for advice.


2. Student Homelessness Results in a Lack of Support


Young students who were dropped in homeless centers reported that they shared common challenges such as adequate housing, finding a job, clean clothes, and food. A student also said that he had to travel 90-minutes every day on public transport just to obtain clothing, food, and other basic services from a homeless drop-in center. Others also shared that they had to move out of their homes into a student community just to be in a safe environment. College and university students also reported poorer health and symptoms of anxiety or depression.


3. Adverse Life Experiences Haunt Students for the Rest of Their Lives


Students shared how a series of life-changing events such as the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caretaker, the loss of an essential item in their life (for example computer), the loss of a job, and abuse from a family member profoundly impacted their ability to live a productive, stable, and healthy life. Furthermore, homelessness negatively impacted the attendance and GPAs of college and university students which ultimately affected their academic success. Simply put, managing work and education to ensure a roof over their heads only made the lives of students more difficult.


While sharing his life story, Johnny said, "Even though his dad's friend provided them with a home to stay in, he would kick them out at two or three in the morning." The already bullied Johnny was afraid to share student homelessness with any of his friends or teachers.


4. The Dynamic Nature of Highly Mobile Students Requires Flexible Educational Opportunities

Transportation and logistics are two of the most common challenges students face due to homelessness. They also face problems with credit transfers and the inability to attend college or university due to a lack of affordable transport services.


This vignette illustrates the significance of having flexible and consistent credit accrual practices to support mobile students and ensure that they no longer have to worry about missed college time that could ultimately affect their learning and placement process.

Furthermore, dedicated liaisons are also essential to ensure that students are provided with all the basic necessities and the support they need. For this, administrators, teachers, and support staff should be trained in the following areas:


  • Trauma-informed care

  • Efforts that promote emotional and social development

  • Restorative practices


With all this in mind!


Education differences among students experiencing homelessness vary across geography and race. Students rely on educators and real estate investors to adopt a coordinated and targeted strategy that provides them with a stable shelter as they receive education.


Campus officials said that the administrative systems of the University of California, California State University, and California Community College are responding proactively to the growth in students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and challenges in fulfilling basic needs. Therefore, we should join hands to figure out a more coordinated and comprehensive approach to minimize student homelessness and provide some relief to the future generation.


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