Homeless students at California’s community colleges may soon have a safe place to sleep at night thanks to a bill authored by State Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto).
Should it be signed into law, Assembly Bill 302 would require community colleges to allow students to sleep in their cars overnight in on-campus parking facilities, according to a Tuesday press release.
“The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now, and when we don't provide a safe place for them to sleep, we force them into the shadows — into dark alleys and industrial parks — where they are most vulnerable,” Berman said in the press release.
Students must be enrolled in classes and have their enrollment fees either paid or waived in order to be eligible, and each school would be required to develop a plan that includes an overnight parking form and liability waiver and designated parking areas.
The bill would also require the schools to provide access to bathrooms, overnight parking rules and hours of operation.
Dr. Lisa Cooper Wilkins, vice president of San Joaquin Delta College, said on Wednesday that she was glad to hear about a bill that would address student homelessness.
“It’s a really difficult issue, and I think the fact that there is attention being paid to that issue is a positive thing,” Cooper Wilkins said.
Cooper Wilkins is also excited about other initiatives to address students’ housing and food needs, she said, such as having dedicated staff to connect students with resources and partnering with Project Hope in Stockton.
“They recently got a large grant, and they will be partnering exclusively with Delta College to address homelessness,” Cooper Wilkins said.
Although she does foresee some challenges arising from the bill — such as ensuring the students are safe and protected from the weather — Cooper Wilkins said she plans to meet with the San Joaquin Delta College District Police Department to discuss ways to address those challenges.
One possible solution is choosing a parking facility as close to the police station as possible, which Cooper Wilkins said would make it easier for officers to monitor the area.
While she is not sure how many of Delta’s students would be considered homeless — or how many already sleep in their cars on campus — Cooper Wilkins said the school already provides services such as allowing them to use showers on campus and expanding the school’s food pantry.
“We just look forward to being able to advance those efforts,” Cooper Wilkins said.
Although he was unsure of how many students might take advantage of the bill should it be signed into law, Delta College Police Sgt. Jim Bock said he and his fellow officers would do everything in their power to make sure the students have a safe place to sleep at night.
“Our main goal is to ensure that they are provided with the safest educational experience possible,” Bock said.