Skip to main content

San Diego Nonprofit Takes On Student Housing Crisis

San Diego State Students Alberto Perez Jr. and Derek Patterson at Wesley Hous...

Photo by Melaina Spitzer

Above: San Diego State Students Alberto Perez Jr. and Derek Patterson at Wesley House, May 21, 2019.

Derek Patterson is an art student at San Diego State University, and his one-bedroom apartment is full of artwork: paintings, sculptures, and handmade surfboards. Patterson is a resident of Wesley House. He said he’s grateful to live there after having experienced homelessness earlier in his life.

“Of course having my own place is a huge thing for me,” Patterson said. “It was embarrassing like to have to ask people to stay over.”

The San Diego nonprofit Wesley House is taking on the problem of student homelessness. Wesley House is located on the edge of the San Diego State campus and it has room for 34 students. It provides affordable housing and support services aimed at college students.

Reported by L. Matthew Bowler

RELATED: San Diego County Homeless Student Count Reaches Record High. But How Real Are The Numbers?

Now Patterson is quick to offer his home to others. He remembers life without a roof over his head.

“That was probably the worst time in my life,” said Patterson. “Just very hungry and cold, and of course it was the worst part of the year that I had to be outside.”

Patterson isn’t alone in this experience. Wesley House director of development Nicole Marquel says there are currently more than 3,000 unsheltered students at SDSU, and the problem is even worse at community colleges.

“About 10% of students in the CSU and UC systems experience homelessness,” Marquel said. “Approximately 20% of students in the community colleges throughout California experience homelessness, so it’s an alarming and growing crisis.”

RELATED: Hunger And Homelessness Are Widespread Among College Students, Study Finds

In addition to homeless youth, Wesley House serves students from other vulnerable populations. That includes former foster youth, first-generation college students, and formerly incarcerated students — such as Patterson.

Patterson said the need for shelter and money led him to commit armed robbery, and he ended up in prison. After serving his time, he couldn’t find a place to live. He was rejected from three apartments because of his criminal record. He said Wesley House is helping him turn his life around.

“I’d really rather kind of like make it on my own,” he said. “The motivation is just from my past. It’s time to turn a new page — you know, like, become a better person.”

Photo by Melaina Spitzer

Derek Patterson, an art student at SDSU, shares his creations in his Wesley House apartment, May 21, 2019.

RELATED: Report: College Students Are Hungry And Government Programs Could Do More To Help

Overcoming hardship and building self-reliance is a theme for students at Wesley House, which provides financial mentoring to students in addition to affordable housing.

Wesley House resident and first-generation college student Alberto Perez Jr. said this is especially important for students like him.

“I’ve known other first-generation students work one or two part-time jobs," he said. "They commute, they struggle to study and maintain their focus — and even then it’s not enough. Some of my friends, they faced almost dropping out. They struggle with who to communicate to for advice.”

After four years at Wesley House, Perez graduated and landed his first job as an aerospace engineer for the Navy. Now he wants to pay it forward by putting his parents through school and partnering with Wesley House to create more affordable housing for students like him.

“Anything is possible, we just have to work through it,” Perez said. “No matter how hard it is, if we really want it we can achieve it.”

By Reporter Melaina Spitzer

Part 1 — The director of the "Wesley House" at SDSU says there are currently more than 3,000 unsheltered students at San Diego State University, and the problem is even worse at community colleges.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego News Matters, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

By Reporter Melaina Spitzer

Part 2 — The director of the "Wesley House" at SDSU says there are currently more than 3,000 unsheltered students at San Diego State University, and the problem is even worse at community colleges.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego News Matters, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.