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Hearing At San Diego State Examines Student Homelessness

Hearing At San Diego State Examines Student Homelessness
Hearing At San Diego State Examines Student Homelessness GUESTS:Shirley Weber, assemblywoman, California Darin Johnson, campus pastor, San Diego State University's Agape House

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am trying to. Lots of adults can remember living through tough times during their college days. Part-time jobs, crummy apartments, too many roommates, weeks of top Ramen dinners, but even that might seem attractive to the students on campuses today who are hungry and homeless. Members of a state assembly committee will convene at San Diego State University this afternoon to hear about housing and food security around campus and to hear how students are paying more than ever before for a higher education in California are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and would on the table. Joining me is San Diego assemblywoman surely Weber. She is chair of the assembly select committee on campus climate and is a member of the assembly committee on higher education. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having us and bringing some attention to this issue. Also joining me is the Reverend Darin Johnson. He is campus pastor at the Agape House. Thank you for joining us. I am very happy to be with you. Dr. Weber, why is the assembly conducting this public forum? What have you been told about the problem of hunger and homelessness on campus? Part of the thrust on this community called the campus climate select committee that was formed two years ago originally dealt with issues of racism and sexism. It also began to look at all kinds of things that are happening on campuses that impede his students from being successful. Images of what campus used to be is no longer the reality for many students. This issue for food and securities and homelessness was brought to our attention. As we are talking about issues of race and gender and class cop people are saying that we also have some other issues that directly effect the progress of students going to campus and being successful. One of it has to do with food insecurities and the other with homelessness. It has been brought to our attention. As a result, we are looking to see how our campuses are responding. We think that our campuses are to be examples for the rest of the state. Our campuses are responding to this challenge and what we have to do is a legislator to help with this particular area. What are some of the reasons that more students may be struggling with these issues? There are multiple issues. The economy has changed. We also have older students coming back to school. We have a significant number of insecurities. We have foster kids who we are encouraging to go to college. There is the image that you go to college and you go home during holiday vacations. That is not always the reality for students. They have no home to go to. We became aware of this a while ago. It seems as if it is extent -- expanded by our understanding of homelessness and the connection between being healthy, having good nutrition, and being able to performing school. We see this in our universities. Pastor Darren, what does it mean when we say students are homeless? Are the couch surfing? Are the living in cars? It is quite a wide variety that I see. I have known the students who sleep in their cars. Some have been assaulted while asleep. Others are couch surfing or renting a closet or sharing a very small bedroom and not being on a lease. They are not protected with a stable housing situation. It is in the midst of midterm and final exams, where do you go if you lose your home? Some stay in the library lounge on campus, but they don't feel safe there. They have had things stolen. Is quite a wide variety. Last week, KPBS Midday Edition producer spoke with a college student about his bout with homelessness. My name is Tristan. Ray Major is sociology. I was homeless for 90 days. I was told that I had to leave. I was going for a walk. I was looking at the ground and wondering how I ended up homeless. It was hard to mentally to face that realization. Outside of that, you go to the process of admitting to my family that I need help. They did not have the resources to help me out so they told me that I had to pick myself up and work it out. There was a large apartment building nearby. They had a parking structure in the bottom. Sometimes, I had to put all of my things there. I remember finding friends who happened to go to San Diego state that elected the Marine Corps. Sometimes I would crash at his house. I go up there now sometimes to look at the view and reflect. It was a crazy time. Luckily, Kristian Bell is not homeless anymore. Pastor Darren, how do you find that kids slip into homelessness? Is very typical downward spiral that you see? Stress can be a part of it. Sometimes an unstable family situation or academics can help. If they are paying back student loans because they are working, then they are struggling to make ends meet there. There's trying to get back into school. General instability can happen in a lot of different ways.'s back -- Do schools have the resources to help students who are struggling with finding a place to live in getting enough to eat? I think they do it in the various services. They have some resources to utilize. I would also advocate that they use the resources of the county as well. So often, we forget that we have County resources that are available to adults to help with housing and food. Those kinds of things are disconnected from the University. In the past, we did not look the university where students would be in need of social services. A were always for kids who were forward thinking and affluent families. The reality is that we have a wider range of students and campuses may need to start working more closely with social services. When I was on the school board, we started working with social services. We got them to work with one of the social workers on our campus as part of a caseload. They were making sure that we had the resources available to our kids. It may be something that we needed to look at the university as well to make sure that the county is taking care of. 30,000 of these people are students. It is a small town. With all of the issues that come with a small town, our campuses are slowly recognizing that. Most of our campuses now have the food pantries on the campus. Eight or nine CSU's have food pantries for people to get food. Our students are seeing that it is their responsibility to help their peers and help others. It is developing an environment for young people to start thinking about these issues that are critical issues that often times they had not thought about before. It is a good thing for them to learn how to do it now and to become engaged with all of the issues and project. Many of our campuses have pantries for their students. Do we have any statistics on how many students might be struggling with this? Are those numbers being compiled now? They are being compiled now. Some of the campuses have gotten a grant to begin looking at how much it is. We have seen some data that says about 25% of all of the kids in the UC system have some sense of food insecurity. That is a quarter of the students that are skipping meals or eating one meal a day because they can't afford to have a full meal. They are eating top Ramen day after day because that is the only thing that they can afford. We are beginning to see that. Hopefully, within the next year, we will have the data that gives us an idea of how large the problem is. For then, Pastor Darren, I know that you and the Agape House have been trying to help. Your been trying to give support and assistance to kids who come in and say that they have lost a place to live. What kind of assistance are you able to provide to homeless kids and students who perhaps don't know where their next meal is coming from? We have had about 50 years of a Wednesday night dinner. It was mostly a community building event. More and more, in the last four years, I have seen people coming who had not eaten in a day or two. This was their main meal of the week. On side conversations, we find out they are also dealing with homelessness. That has allowed us to receive some grant funds that have allowed us to do a community garden and some food sharing. We are really overwhelmed with the need where we can no longer do that. We don't have that capacity. We are hoping that the University and the wider community can partner with us in a joint effort. As I understand it, one of the things that you see a need for is some direct funding for housing for students. There is a lot of funding for actually being able to go to school, but to get money directly for housing is difficult. The rates are skyrocketing. It is well past inflation. The latest figures I've seen is $1650 a month. That includes two meals a day. That is on-campus housing? Yes. The University is forced indisposition to leverage new revenue streams. Unfortunately, that is gentrifying our campus. We are seeing more German cars the last few years. Is the state in a position to reduce the cost of school to the point where some students don't have to make a school between going to school and having a place to live? The state can always do more. There's no question about that. We have increased our student aid packages. We have expanded the number of students who can get student aid. Becomes important. We increase money going to CSU and UC with the understanding that these would not go up. That is part of it as well. We are doing those things and trying to fill in those places and those gaps. We are making sure that those people who have true needs are eligible for financial aid. Is a tricky thing because those students have had financial aid in the past. A have become disqualified or have loans and can't get more money. It is a complicated marriage situation that is there that we need to revisit. Often times, students are barred from financial aid for life because they have a loan and that they did not pay back because they took a leave. There is a lot of complications around that. We are funding backed and we are looking at a student aid commission. We are looking at the nuances that agree in terms of students getting resistance. Are the complications involved in getting County assistance considering that kids from all over the place come to San Diego State? They are not all residents of the county of San Diego. There are still residents in the state of California. They are being counted in allocation in terms of resources. Even though they may not have been here forever, they are here now. The county has a responsibility to help them if they fall within the categories who need help. I am not that concerned about that. I am concerned about making sure the students know that they have an opportunity to do that. It is one thing to tell someone that they need to apply for public assistance, but then have to figure out where that is. It is another thing in its self. If you make it on-campus and you make it convenient, more people will take advantage of it. It is truly an issue and we are hoping that through this hearing today on campus and through other kinds of reports, that we will get a real sense of what the issue is. If there is a need for change in policy with regards to financial aid and who is eligible, all of those things will get a chance to probe into that and see what the issues are. Many of our campuses are partnered with the food bank. Help fund the food bank. We may have to do more of that. Some of them have gardens on campuses, which is great. We need to look at that. It changes the conversation on the campuses so that they have to have a different kind of compensation about the needs of students. The assembly select committee will be holding its hearing today at the SDSU hitter at 1 PM. I've been speaking with San Diego assemblywoman surely Weber and Reverend Darin Johnson, campus pastor at the Agape House. Thank you very much. Thank you for having us. Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at 5 PM on KPBS television. Join us again tomorrow for discussions on Midday Edition right here on KPBS. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

Lawmakers were on the San Diego State University campus on Monday to discuss how housing and food insecurity affect college students.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate, led the hearing. It is part of a multi-year effort to better understand what can be done to improve individual learning experiences on California college campuses.

Weber said the committee was created two years ago to tackle issues that affect students, and homelessness and food insecurity emerged as challenges.


“We began to look at all kinds of things on campus that impede students from being successful,” Weber told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “Most of our campuses now have food pantries. Our students are also seeing it’s their responsibility to help their peers.”

Darin Johnson, pastor at the Agape House, an Episcopal-Lutheran campus ministry at SDSU, said the biggest challenge is housing. The average monthly rent for on-campus housing is $1,650, he said.

“Unfortunately, that’s really gentrifying our campus dramatically,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing a lot more German cars on campus.”

Weber said state universities are gathering statistics on how many students are homeless or food insecure.