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Editorial: 'Safe Lot' bill is a start

State legislation would permit community-college students to sleep in cars on campus

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With the high costs of attending California state universities and the difficulty of achieving admission to them, the state's 114 community colleges are playing a larger role than ever before, serving more than 2 million enrolled students.

Shockingly, almost one community-college student in five is living without a regular residence to go home to. These homeless young people are couch-surfing with friends, living on the street or sleeping in their cars, if they have one.

And most are already under enormous stress and financial strain because they are working full- or part-time jobs while also attending college.

A recent survey of 40,000 students released by the Community Colleges Chancellor's Office found that that 19 percent were homeless at some time during the previous year. Extrapolated to the total community-college population, that means that as many as 400,000 may have faced homelessness.

Three years ago, to provide some support for these students, the legislature approved a law (AB 1995) requiring community colleges to open showers at campus athletic facilities for two hours a day to homeless students even if they aren't participating on sports teams or in physical-education classes.

The Student Senate for California Community Colleges has now enlisted Palo Alto Assemblyman Marc Berman to carry a bill, AB 302, that would require each community college to allow registered students to park and sleep in their cars in one or more designated campus parking lots.

As sad and uncomfortable as this idea seems, it is an innovative initiative that, if implemented appropriately, could be an important strategy for supporting students at risk of dropping out of school and losing the opportunity to obtain the education needed to pursue better employment or admission to a state university.

Berman, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, conducted hearings throughout the state last legislative session and heard many stories of students sleeping in their cars because they could not afford housing. One local student attending Foothill College has described the two years he spent working full-time and maintaining a full school schedule and having to search for a safe place to park his car and sleep every night.

Setting up areas on community-college campuses for students to sleep in their cars is obviously not a solution to the housing problem, but it is a way to address a basic need of vulnerable students who have the most to gain from a college degree.

There are many details to be worked out, and Berman's preference is to give each community-college chancellor flexibility in implementing the requirement. It calls for each college to designate an area for overnight parking, establish hours of operation, provide accessible bathrooms and security, require that students agree in writing to follow rules established, such as no alcohol or drugs, and limit use to students enrolled for a minimum number of units who are in good standing with the school academically and financially (if not on fee waivers).

Among the issues to be worked out on a campus-by-campus basis is whether to require cars to leave the parking area each day to ensure the area remains clean and encampments don't get created.

The bill is crafted so that the community colleges will be entitled to reimbursement from the state for their costs in implementing the program. This should allow campuses to provide the appropriate security and other services without it impacting their budgets, but the potential expense to the state is a major question that still needs to be answered.

Berman and other supporters of the legislation also hope that colleges will enhance the program by connecting the homeless students with other available resources such as assistance with food, transitional housing and counseling services, but details are left to each campus.

On Tuesday, the bill received unanimous support from all 10 members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and will be heard by the Appropriations Committee in mid-May.

The "Safe Lot" bill is not a housing solution for homeless students, but it's a step worth trying to help them feel safe. Only a few community colleges have on-campus student housing. Some very inexpensive dormitories or even gym or other facilities opening at night during winter months might be a partial answer in the future.

But for now, Berman's bill is a small but important step toward valuing these young people and addressing a problem that has become a major obstacle to their completing a college education.

Related content:

Learn more about state bills on housing currently working their way through the Legislature by watching the April 5 episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.


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13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2019 at 8:57 am

The costs associated with this will be very real and will come at the expense of education. At the same time, what kind of "dorm" are we talking about providing? A parking lot.

How about we consider actually raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for housing for the poor?

13 people like this
Posted by How about some housing?
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2019 at 12:03 pm

...So last week this paper ran a bunch of articles attacking state legislation which would produce more housing... but this week they're promoting a bill which would allow community college students to sleep in their cars on campus?

Real compassionate, PA editorial board. Truly, you all outdo yourselves.

10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2019 at 1:52 pm

Posted by How about some housing?, a resident of Downtown North

>> ...So last week this paper ran a bunch of articles attacking state legislation which would produce more housing...

"More housing"? Sure. But, you are being conned. SB50 will not "produce" any housing. SB50 will facilitate developers building expensive housing at the expense of nearby neighbors. If you want the supply of affordable housing to increase, as I do, defeat SB50 and find other ways to increase -affordable- housing. Start by preserving the older housing stock where feasible, rather than tearing it down and building fewer units of more expensive housing, as is happening right now in Mountain View. SB50 is a developer's bill, not an affordable housing bill.

3 people like this
Posted by @anon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2019 at 2:27 pm

Sounds like you support absolutely zero solutions which will produce more housing?

Why not make Menlo Park and East Palo Alto build housing? How about razing office space - that'll create housing, right? Or just preserve everything in amber - housing crisis solved!

[Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2019 at 6:22 pm

Posted by @anon, a resident of Downtown North

>> How about razing office space - that'll create housing, right?

Replacing SRP with housing would, indeed, address the jobs/housing imbalance. Let's do it.

Like this comment
Posted by OK To Park Trailer At Foothill?
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2019 at 7:33 pm

Will the this new bill also allow for trailers to be parked in designated lots?

2 people like this
Posted by housing
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2019 at 11:24 am

This is a good start to relieve some of the students that have been pushed out of housing because of high rents. No one suggests using existing vacant buildings as shelters. Some buildings have been for lease with big for rent signs. Some of the buildings are old and still usable. They only want to hear that there is not enough housing so we have to build more. They talk about zoning and mention nothing about the homeless already living in zones that are not designated for housing ie. the creek in San Jose. They seem to think that leaving the homeless exposed to the elements and exposing the general public to disease is a better choice.

14 people like this
Posted by RVs Unwelcomed In Los Altos
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Most Los Altos residents are against the idea of homeless RV parking in Los Altos or Foothill College.

It degrades the community & creates problems that the police will have to deal with.

Fortunately the LAPD enforces city ordinances against transient RVs parking within the city limits. As a result, these people go to Palo Alto or Mountain View instead.

12 people like this
Posted by Paved with good intentions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2019 at 4:07 pm

I don't like things like this because it gives lawmakers an excuse for not solving the problem through real housing. Scholarships and housing stipends for students in good standing, dorms, that's what we should be doing, not making it easy for these lawmakers to think they've done enough. Students sleeping in cars in an obvious place is also an invitation for crimes against them.

Do a better job funding Community College, creating internships that pay a living wage, scholarships that include housing stipends, etc. Even start a program that helps people pay to install ADU's in exchange for housing students for so many years. There are many solutions. Putting resources into keeping students in their cars is inhumane. It's not a good start because the way the world works, it will take the pressure off coming up with actual solutions.

13 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm

The State Assembly Building has ample parking, showers, and ample restroom facilities. It would be a shame to deprive Mr. Berman of the same opportunity he's seeking to offer to us.

21 people like this
Posted by Just Say NO To Transient RVs
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2019 at 5:34 pm

> OK To Park Trailer At Foothill?

Hopefully not.

> RVs Unwelcomed In Los Altos

Cannot rightly blame the residents for their sentiments.

Confession time...I am trying to stop smoking but whenever I happen to 'light-up' near one of these RV encampments, 4 out of 10 ten times someone comes up and asks me, "Can you spare a smoke?"

And 10 times out of 10, they never offer to remunerate for that requested cigarette which comes to about 20-25 cents as cigarettes are arounnd $9-$10 a pack.

Most of these transient RV dwellers are deadbeats trying to get something for nothing...free parking, free smokes, free cash etc.

I've even seen some of the more recognizable ones panhandling after local church services & hitting exiting parishioners for cash handouts.

This practice has got to stop.

5 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2019 at 8:35 am

“Safe Lot” solves nothing while creating new public expenses including sanitation, security, increased problems for current homeowners, and policing obligations. Just as employers must not continue to create jobs in areas that cannot or will not provide adequete housing, schools should not be accepting students in places where they or the community does not provide sufficient housing.
Sure, the demand is there, people want to come here but the penninsula isn’t able to absorb them. Putting the in cars, in parking lots, is not a ‘solution’

5 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2019 at 9:04 am

There are other concerns about this proposal.
First, colleges have continued to grow their budgets, campuses, and dependency on increasing streams of grant funds, tuition, and loan dollars. Facilitating this is not a good idea. Not everyone needs to go to college and for many, there are much better options.
Second, creating encampments at schools and colleges facilitates accomodating more and more migrants. People may support the charity of open door welcome of illegals but the reality is that there aren’t hundreds of thousands of housing units to accomodate them. Creating ‘homes’ for them just isn’t a good option. We should not be misled, students now but migrants and other homeless tomorrow. Living in a car in a parking lot is just no good for anyone.

6 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2019 at 8:42 am

eileen is a registered user.

This is the worst idea I have ever come across for solving our high cost of housing.

Are you kidding? Students cramming for exams out in a parking lot? Students needing to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in a parking lot? Students with children living in a parking lot? Students hanging out in a parking lot with unregistered RV dwellers? Campus police running around trying to enforce some kind of order? CRAZY!!

What has our state turned into? Are we now a (third world), "Developing nation" country?
Please do not treat these students like second class citizens! Build dorms on campus!! Get the funding to do this!

Marc Berman, you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking this is a good idea!!

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2019 at 10:15 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Why not allow the private sector to get involved?

A lot could be purchased or leased. The ownerI could line the sides of the lot with chemical toilets and trash barrels and charge a reasonable rent to cover maintenance and insurance. Access to the lot could be controlled and allowed only for registered students.

Of course there are other issues to be addressed, but I'm willing to bet someone could make a profit on this.

5 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2019 at 11:11 am

eileen is a registered user.

Bill, how about some of the billionaires and corporations around here like, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc. invest in affordable dorms for these enrolled students? Perhaps they might be their employees in the future.
Suggesting we should turn parking lots into trailer camps is inhumane and degrading for students!!

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2019 at 11:41 am

What about High School parking lots? I read that Ravenswood has well over a thousand homeless students. Web Link Yeah, different district.

Like this comment
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2019 at 1:20 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Foothill College students would not be staying in a high school parking lot in EPA. That is a lame idea too, but I think you are joking...

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2019 at 9:47 pm

^ I was not suggesting that homeless Ravenswood students sleep at Foothill.

5 people like this
Posted by Traymon
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2019 at 7:09 pm

> Foothill College students would not be staying in a high school parking lot in EPA.

What's wrong with East Palo Alto? Is this yet another example of effete Palo Alto mentality?

We have stores, parking lots and gas stations just like any other community.

Someday we may even have a major hospital along the likes of the Mayo Clinic if adequate funding can be appropriated. Not a just teaching hospital like Stanford but a major international medical center where research will find a cure for Lyme Disease, AIDs, and various ailments named after people.

8 people like this
Posted by Elaine
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2019 at 5:36 pm

My name is Elaine; I am a junior at Palo Alto High School. Although the April 5 editorial, “‘Safe Lot’ Bill is a Start,” addressed a temporary housing solution for homeless community college students passing AB 302 will not solve the problem. The legislature should create alternative solutions, such as providing low-cost housing, building affordable dorms, or offering other forms of financial aid for self-supporting students who are striving to finish their education while working full time.

8 people like this
Posted by Foothill Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2019 at 12:31 am

I think this all began back in 2018, when a student from an affluent Los Altos Hills family was kicked out by his parents for whatever reason. They have a large home with land.
Town Crier
Web Link

And what do we do with the perpetual students who have been attending for more than 4 years?

Us tax payers will ultimately pay for this.
I was under the impression that we were aiming to do something to help house the TEACHERS at Foothill.
If Foothill can't hire and keep their fantastic teachers and staff, we no longer have a top notch community college.

I know of a teacher (PhD) with a toddler, who commuted all the way from Mill Valley
to teach a single course. This is absolutely ridiculous!

Please do not turn the parking lot into an RV lot.
It will cost our community more in the long run.
People will abuse our community college system more than they are currently doing, and make it a life style with entitlement to use all their facilities.
Welfare and entitlement are vicious cycles, and we should create solid boundaries on the length of time at the college, and also to make sure it is not an extension of section 8 housing.
Recall the article of a PA resident who made it his lifestyle to stay in subsidized housing for 47 years without making an effort to go back to college to improve himself?
Let's not go there.

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