San José State University students achieved a small victory for peers in need of temporary emergency beds.
The university recently agreed to allow students access to the beds for four weeks rather than 48 hours without asking them to take out a loan, Lana Gomez, president of the Student Homeless Alliance, told San José Spotlight.
“It does show that activism is powerful and what we’re doing is a step in the right direction,” Gomez said. “But if we weren’t holding the administration accountable for their agreement, it wouldn’t happen.”
The Student Homeless Alliance has been urging the university to offer emergency beds to any students who request them without putting obstacles in their way.
Holding signs that read, “Lower Housing Barriers” and “SJSU Do Better,” members of the Student Homeless Alliance stood shoulder to shoulder at a news conference on campus Dec. 2. An array of 4,000 white flags bearing houses arced behind them, each representing a student who experienced homelessness for at least a day during the past year.
Student Josephine Padilla-McNulty said the four-week extension gives students time to find a job or receive a paycheck, but questions remain.
“We’re unclear about the requirement of having to be an enrolled student with a certain number of units and in good academic standing,” she said. “If you are experiencing housing insecurity, you don’t have time to be in good academic standing with a certain GPA (grade point average). We have to keep fighting.”
Student Samantha Shinagawa said through their own investigations, as well as reports from students who tried to utilize the emergency bed program, students were told they needed to maximize loans to access these services. She would like to see loans be a last resort, replaced by grants and rental assistance. She would also like the students to have 40 days to use the shelter so they can find work and avoid couchsurfing, sleeping in parking lots or dropping out.
More than 100 students requested emergency housing this semester, Shinagawa said, and only one student was able to use an emergency bed.
“It’s still not clear why this program hasn’t been used to its full potential,” she said.
Catherine Voss Plaxton, associate vice president for Health, Wellness, and Student Services, said SJSU Cares — which provides resources and services for students facing financial crisis, including emergency housing — looks at a range of student needs. When it comes to housing, it’s not always a straight line between what the student requests and what the university can provide, she said.
“We absolutely want to make sure they get the assistance they need whether it be housing, food assistance, financial literacy assistance,” she said.
Students are not required to take out loans in order to receive housing assistance, but are asked to work with case managers to look at their comprehensive college funding plan, she said.
“It is the choice of the student how they want to fund their college education,” she said.
She declined to say how many students used emergency assistance for beds this semester, but said data is coming out in January.
Although students do not have to attend college full time to receive assistance — just enrolled and working toward their degree, according to Voss Plaxton — a lack of clarity remains.
Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center, said there is confusion as to what it means to be an enrolled student. Last week, an administrator told her a student taking three to six units would be considered enrolled, but Harlan has another document stating nine are needed — and SJSU Cares staff are saying 12.
“The people on the ground in the Cares department are changing the intake based on what they think should happen,” Harlan said. “They instantly screen you out if you don’t have your loans, if you’re not enrolled full time, even your behavior; good conduct is considered.”
Harlan said these restrictions are roadblocks to serving homeless students.
“The administration wants to do the right thing,” she said, “but unfortunately, the people implementing it think they have to protect these (financial) resources.”
Student Homeless Alliance member Anthony Majano said the approaching winter makes being in a shelter even more of a necessity.
“No student can thrive in these conditions,” Majano said. “The president is leaving in less than a month, and we urge her and her administration to help those students in need asap before they have to endure another cold winter.”
This article was originally published in San José Spotlight.