Students will also have access to restrooms and Wi-Fi throughout the night and campus showers between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. daily.
California’s Long Beach City College has launched a pilot program to designate safe, overnight parking for homeless students living in their cars. The school on Monday announced that its "Safe Parking Program" program is meant to address the needs of unhoused students and provide a safe place for them to park overnight. According to Los Angeles Times, up to 15 currently enrolled students will be able to pull into a campus parking garage under the watch of security guards, seven nights a week, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. They will have access to restrooms and Wi-Fi throughout the night and campus showers between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. daily.
Long Beach City College has nearly 70 students sleeping in their cars each night, school officials say. This new program aims to give homeless students a safe place to park overnight, access to restrooms, showers and free Wi-Fi https://t.co/OEMbMqs3tF— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) November 3, 2021
"Our goal for this program is that it will serve as a pathway to housing stability for our students," said LBCCD Board of Trustees President Uduak-Joe Ntuk. "These students would otherwise have to be worrying nightly about their vehicles being broken into, trying not to be seen or bothered, and not having the police called on them, all while keeping up with their coursework. It could be an exhausting situation that makes it more difficult to get ahead." To be eligible for the pilot program, students must be "independent with no spouses, partners, or children sleeping in the vehicle with them. Service and Emotional Support Animals are allowed to stay with the students if proper documentation is provided."
Long Beach Community College District (LBCCD) Interim Superintendent-President Dr. Mike Muñoz admitted that while the Safe Parking Program — the only known program of its kind in the region at a community college — is not the end solution to the issue at hand, it is a step in the right direction. "The unfortunate truth is that LBCC has close to 70 students sleeping in their cars each night —quite possibly more," Muñoz said. "If we can help to keep our students safe so they can better focus on their student responsibilities, this program is absolutely worth pursuing. Our goal at LBCC is always to remove barriers that get in the way of our student's success."
LBCC revealed at least 199 students have identified themselves, via a student emergency aid fund application, as chronically homeless i.e. they have experienced homelessness for over a year. Meanwhile, about 1000 of 20,000 students who responded to a preregistration survey said they have not had stable or permanent housing at some point in the last five months. Roughly 3000 said they had difficulty paying their bills, including rent, over the last six months.
"This is not just intended to be a long-term solution for students," said Muñoz. "All students who participate in the Safe Parking Program are able to receive case management services through our office of basic needs. We're looking for ways to transition them" out of homelessness. The program was modeled heavily after a California Assembly bill that proposed a statewide overnight parking program for unhoused students throughout the 116-campus California Community Colleges system. The bill died in the state Senate last year largely because of liability concerns and questions over funding.
However, Muñoz believes that those behind the bill were on to something as some form of temporary emergency help — even a safe parking space — could make a lot of difference. "I think it will take some schools that are courageous," he said. "We have to have a strategy for students who are in that housing crisis. Safe parking is that short-term response for students that are housing insecure that need support in the moment." Students participating in the program — which is slated to last until June 30, 2022, as of now — will also be assisted by staff in order to find more long-term and stable housing.