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Southwestern College Steps Up Services Amid Increasing Student Homelessness

Trevor Huckaby talks to outreach workers with Veterans Community Services abo...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Above: Trevor Huckaby talks to outreach workers with Veterans Community Services about housing the day after he was kicked out of his apartment, Nov. 14, 2017.

It could have been luck. The very morning after Trevor Huckaby was kicked out of the two-bedroom apartment he shared with seven other people, his school held a resource fair for homeless students.

“All I thought about was coming to school,” he said of his night sleeping on the ground in front of an Imperial Beach business. “It’s the only place I know how to do things right.”

But a new effort at Southwestern College aims to make quickly connecting homeless students with services the standard, not luck. The Chula Vista community college began partnering with nonprofits and service providers after a student survey last year revealed 80 percent of students experienced hunger or knew someone who had. The campus opened a food pantry in response and quickly learned many of those showing up were also homeless.

A national survey by the University of Wisconsin estimates 14 percent of community college students are homeless. Half are at risk of becoming homeless.

Huckaby, who’s studying automotive technology at Southwestern and is a Navy veteran, said he has struggled with finances before and was recently the victim of identity theft. Within hours of his night on the street, he had a $150 check in hand from Southwestern’s SWC Cares program to help students in crisis.

He was also swooped up by Rosy Vasquez.

“It was kind of that first responder mentality,” said Vasquez, community outreach coordinator for the South Bay nonprofit Turning the Hearts Center. “When I saw him and he was like, ‘I need help,’ my first priority was to let him know that we’re here to help, to make him comfortable and to immediately engage him so that he knew he was in the right place.”

Vasquez said that immediate engagement is key in a campus environment. She said, unlike when conducting homeless outreach in the streets, students tend to hide their circumstances and are reluctant to accept basic help like food and supplies.

“If they are embarrassed or they’re feeling a little shame, they seem to want to hold back a little bit,” Vasquez said.

In addition to financial assistance, Vasquez helped set up Huckaby with free legal services to sort out the situation with his roommates, assistance from the police to reclaim his belongings in the apartment, and a lead on housing through Veterans Village.

“That’s why I love this school,” Huckaby said. “Because no matter what, all the stuff I’ve been through, it’s all behind me. All I’m thinking about is school. I have money here, I have food here, I have school.”

Southwestern is highlighting its efforts during the national Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week with a series of events, beginning with Tuesday’s resource fair and ending with a community forum 8:30 a.m. Friday.

The San Diego Community College District is also helping hungry students this week:

–California Coast Credit Union and Panera Bread are teaming up with City College to provide gift cards to homeless and hungry students. Students can apply for the cards online. The City College Pantry is also soliciting donations to help feed 300 students weekly.

–Mesa College is seeking contributions of money, clothing and food for its food pantry and clothing closet, The Stand, for #GivingTuesday on Nov. 28.

–Miramar College is accepting non-perishable food items, toiletries and school supplies through Friday to restock its Emergency Food Pantry. The campus will also host an early Thanksgiving for students who are or were in the foster care system 1 p.m. Friday.

–San Diego Continuing Education is collecting non-perishable food items at its locations to benefit the San Diego Food Bank.

Last year, Southwestern College opened a food pantry to help students experiencing hunger. As they came forward, the school learned many were also homeless.

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