Above: According to Palomar College’s demographic data collected by the school’s Institutional Research and Planning department, 45% of its student base is classified as economically disadvantaged. Courtesy photo
ESCONDIDO — At its May 14 meeting, the Palomar College Governing Board considered a proposal from the Associated Student Government of Palomar Community College to allow homeless students to park overnight in designated parking lots.
A follow up to a resolution passed in March by the Associated Student Government, the proposal calls for the college to make two parking lots available for the cause.
And it comes as the California Senate considers AB 302, requiring community colleges in the state create safe parking lot space in which homeless students could sleep. The city of San Diego recently banned sleeping in cars for its homeless community.
Anthony White, the vice president of Shared Governance for Palomar College’s student government and a business major who has also testified on behalf of AB 302 in Sacramento, presented the 15-page proposal to the board at the meeting.
“Parking in a parking lot may sound like a simple solution, and that’s because it really is,” White told the board. “Homelessness should not be a barrier to education and at Palomar, it doesn’t have to be.”
Responding to the presentation, trustee Mark Evilsizer said that Palomar College staff could look into costs and potential grants to facilitate turning the parking proposal into a reality.
White said he thought that the proposal — created after consulting with overnight parking coordinators, college administrators, campus police — has received positive feedback from the Governing Board, particularly from trustee John Halcon, who has told White that as a college student he had to live for two or three weeks in his car.
At Palomar College, which has an enrollment of 30,000, 45% of its students fall under the economically disadvantaged classification. Under federal law, that is defined as “individuals (other than individuals with disabilities) who have economic or academic disadvantages and who require special services and assistance in order to enable these individuals to succeed.”
Many community college students throughout North County, both at Palomar College and MiraCosta College, are homeless.
AB 302 would mandate that every California community college campus provide “parking facilities on campus to grant overnight access … to any homeless student who is enrolled in coursework, has paid any enrollment fees, fees that have not been waived, and is in good standing with the community college, and for the purpose of sleeping in the student’s vehicle overnight.”
If the legislation passes during the current legislative session, it would go into effect on July 1, 2020. AB 302 passed unanimously the Assembly Committee on Higher Education on April 2 and with only one dissenting vote in the Appropriations Committee on May 16.
This “moves us one step closer to making safe lots a reality for California’s homeless community college students,” said Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), the bill’s sponsor, in a press release responding to its passage through the Appropriations Committee. “While we work towards the long term goal of building much more housing across the state, we must do everything we can to alleviate the fear and suffering that these students are facing tonight.”
White, a 28-year-old military veteran who during his community college tenure also had to live for eight months in his car due to poverty, expressed hope that the Governing Board would adopt the plan “as soon as possible”.
“We’re hoping for this fall to kick off an introductory program, at least, to see if it’s something we can facilitate. Figure out where and how kind of thing,” White told The Coast News. “We can figure out the logistics over the summer because the Governing Board is in session during the summer.”
White also said that he hoped the Governing Board would adopt the plan regardless of whether AB 302 becomes state law, moving forward with a proposal before the prospective state mandate locks in.
“If we can get our program in place by the fall, it gives us a leg up where we can do it for the whole fall, figure out all the kinks and then in the spring you’ve got a well-oiled machine,” explained White.
In its proposal and in a recent press release promoting the passage of AB 302 in the Assembly Appropriation Committee, both the Associated Student Government and Rep. Berman point to a study published in March by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, a nonprofit higher education research center located at Temple University in Philadelphia.
That report concluded that 50% of California community college students faced food insecurity and hunger within the last 30 days, while 19% of those surveyed faced homelessness in 2018.
The lead author of that study, Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, told The Coast News that while she supports AB 302 and the Palomar student government proposal, she also believes it is not a long-term solution to the issue.
“It’s not very common for this to be how college students who are homeless are surviving and it’s far more common to be couch surfing,” Goldrick-Rab said. “And it can be expensive for colleges to pay for security for safe parking. We ought to do better. That said, until we do this may — sadly — be a necessary Band-Aid.”
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.