Homeless epidemic hits state college campuses

Danielle Munoz The CSU Sacramento Case Manager

As homelessness surges statewide, the epidemic is hitting college campuses as well, with a staggering number of students being classified as homeless.

In the spring of 2016, the California State University Office of the Chancellor conducted a study across 23 CSU campuses and found that 8.7 percent of students in the CSU system identified as homeless, and 21 percent reported food insecurity.

The data prompted staff at Sacramento State to conduct its own study. The information reported by students revealed that that 12 percent of students on the campus reported being homeless and 24 percent reported food insecurity.

Danielle Munoz, a case manager at Sacramento State, recently addressed the issue during a presentation given to the Lodi chapter of American Association of University Women.

Cities across the state and country are dealing with homelessness, but the fact that it is affecting college students hits home for former educator and AAUW member Sally Spenker.

Spenker, an alumnus at Sacramento State, received a newsletter from her alma mater highlighting Munoz and the work she does on the campus as a social worker.

“It was surprising to read the statistics about student homelessness, and how unaware people are to this issue,” Spenker said.

Munoz, who works directly with students, said that students who reported being homeless were found to be living in their cars, at local shelters, or couch surfing with friends.

“The stigma associated with being homeless prevents many students from coming forward,” Munoz said, “we’ll find out a student was displaced by faculty, after students will request extensions on assignments due to displacement, and my department will get involved.”

Most students that struggle with homelessness come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and students that struggle financially are usually sent into a downward spiral when unexpected emergencies arise.

“For students that are already struggling, something like a medical emergency or a car breaking down can hinder their financial stability, and they are forced to choose between things like rent and groceries,” Munoz said.

Another contributing factor that has spurred student homelessness is the rise in the rental market. The average cost for an apartment within 10 miles of Sacramento State is $981. The Sacramento Bee reported that Sacramento has had annual increases in rent since 2013, including a 10-percent increase in 2017. With rent on the rise, many students are not able to afford housing.

Sacramento State reported that 28 percent of incoming freshmen reported family income of less than $30,000 a year, leaving them to rely solely on financial aid — the most federal aid a student can receive in a semester is $6000 — or income from a job to be able to afford school.

Even with the help, students continue to struggle to find housing due to high rent deposits at apartment buildings. Apartment complexes near the university have been known to charge students deposit fees as high as $3,000, according to Munoz.

External circumstances have also contributed to student homelessness, such as abusive relationships that has forced students to live in shelters or their cars.

In Stockton, the University of the Pacific has also reported an increase in homeless students on campus, partly due to systemic poverty in the region.

Both Sacramento State and Pacific offer a food pantry on campus, and emergency housing for students that need immediate shelter. Both campuses utilize community resources to help students facing displacement or food insecurity.

“Our housing department works with students on a case-by-case basis, and we offer counseling and psychological services to students,” said Keith Michaud, media relations manager at Pacific.

As campuses prioritize their resources, Munoz hopes that Sacramento State and its programs can serve as a model for other universities looking to help its students.

“We are developing a Crises Assistance Resource Education Services Office, which will help people with services ranging from emergency housing to applying for CalFresh benefits, ” Munoz said.

“Our job as administrators is to make sure our students don’t fall through the cracks,” Munoz said.

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