Long Beach City College’s new parking structure is more than a place for staff and students to stash their cars: The four-level garage right off Pacific Coast Highway, which opened in 2020, is also serving as an ad-hoc dormitory.
Underscoring the crushing realities of affordability, the Pacific Coast campus of Long Beach City College started an experimental safe parking program for housing insecure community students, who, bereft of other options, have turned to sleeping in their vehicles. A recent survey found that, out of a student body of roughly 24,000, 3,000 are housing insecure, 1,000 are either homeless or couch surfing, and roughly 70 sleep in their cars. The parking program, which provides overnight security and access to power outlets and nearby restrooms, can accommodate 15.
Interim superintendent president Michael Muñoz, who launched the program this fall as part of a wide-ranging effort during the pandemic to revamp how the school handles emergency aid, said the experiment in alternative shelter came out of a realization that the student housing problem is immediate, and help isn’t coming fast enough. The school is embarking on a $90 million plan to build affordable housing on a site five miles from campus, but that will take years to complete.
“In California, housing affordability is an issue that extends beyond community college,” Muñoz said. “Layer in the student aid model, which awards aid based on total cost of attendance outside of housing, and community college students get less because tuition is cheap. This was all exacerbated by Covid.”
According to a 2020 report from UCLA, 1 in 5 community college students, 1 in 10 California State University students, and 1 in 20 University of California students experienced homelessness that year. The state legislature earmarked half a billion dollars in the 2021-2022 budget to help address the persistent problem.
Muñoz knows firsthand how housing challenges can eat away at upward mobility. When he attended community college at East Los Angeles College and Fullerton College as a single parent, he recalls struggling with balancing work, parenting and his studies. “Do I buy food or textbooks,” he said. “Which utilities can I live without?” When Muñoz later transferred to UC-Irvine, which opened up additional aid opportunities, the change “made him feel like he won the lottery.”
“I made it through the system,” he said. “I feel guilt, because a lot of my peers who couldn’t get through community college had the same life experiences I had. We’re losing students — human beings with hopes and dreams that are being derailed.”
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