California’s Long Beach City College allowed homeless students to sleep in their vehicles at a secure on-campus parking structure overnight. “We believe that granting students [the ability] to sleep in parking [will] help unhoused students at the college, which has at least 70 students sleeping in their cars each night,” according to LBCC District official Dr. Mike Muñoz. This change gives a temporary solution, sending the message that it’s safe to sleep in a car when institutions fail to adequately address the basic needs epidemic. The lack of resources to address these fundamental issues, such as homelessness and food insecurity, is shattering college dreams.
Even before the pandemic hit in 2020, a national survey conducted by the Hope Center at Temple University asked 86,000 students about their basic needs. “45% of those students responded that they were food insecure in the prior 30 days.” (Hope Center) The institutions and elected officials have failed the students of our state and nation. We don’t offer healthy foods to those that are food insecure. We don’t help our most vulnerable student population. Students are being forced to find food on their own because their campuses don’t have a healthy and sustainable food pantry. I know through lived experience how difficult it is to try and get on your feet while hampered by the sheer weight of basic necessities. Accomplishing anything is difficult when all you can think about is where you’ll sleep next.
Currently, I work as a Basic Needs Researcher for the Southern California College Access Network. I have come across many housing insecure students who share my experiences. Students are forgotten about; students at my school live in storage units to get by. The pandemic worsened that reality for those already struggling from previous traumatic experiences. I had to move in and out of different states such as Arizona and New York because I could not find a stable place to live and relied on couch surfing. It impacted my ability to stay focused and driven in my virtual courses and deprecated me from enjoying my classes during my last year as a senior at Sacramento State University. I attempted to find a second job, to stabilize myself, but employers felt hesitant to hire me because I was going through so much housing insecurity. At one point, I even had an employer mention that I take a break and look after my mental health. I felt broken and shattered; looking after my mental health was a financial privilege I could not afford. I used my voice and spoke to the Secretary of State Shirley Webner and Assemblymember Marc Berman to disable these inequities. I ultimately realized that my failure was never my fault. I was not failing, never as a student or an employee. The system was failing me because it was outdated and didn’t acknowledge the basic needs struggles of Millennials and Gen Z’s.
Roshelle Czar is currently a Basic Needs Fellow in her last semester at Sacramento State University. She has addressed the challenges around basic needs by working with Swipe Out Hunger, speaking at various panels, and advocating for a transfer reform bill, AB928, signed into law by Governor Newsom on October 6, 2021.