Homeless Students Hurting for Housing

Bethany Hopkins

Nina Valdez sits in her burgundy Plymouth, props her book against the steering wheel and turns on the car’s small interior light. She is demonstrating how she used to study.
Valdez said she would always stay in the driver’s seat because it seemed safer than the back.
“I kept a knife…just in case,” Valdez said. For two months, her only home was a 1989 Plymouth Reliant K. Valdez came to City College from St. Louis, but her housing arrangement fell through the first week of the Fall 2004 semester.
Mark Egle knows a thing or two about trying to find a place to live. After a spontaneous decision to move down to City College from the Bay Area last week, all he as in Santa Barbara is a friend’s couch. His solution­-standing outside of the Campus Center, wearing a bright pink sign around his neck that read “I need housing.”
“It cuts out the middle man,” Egle said. “I got two numbers after 10 minutes.” He tried using the school’s housing boards and national web sites, like craigslist, without success.
When it comes to finding a home, students are mostly on their own. “There’s not really a lot out there for [homeless] students,” Valdez said.
Carly Harrod, street outreach coordinator for Noah’s Anchorage YMCA Youth Shelter, agrees “Santa Barbara is a very expensive city.” Harrod has worked with City College students before, but Noah’s Anchorage can only allow those who are under 18 to stay at the shelter.
Santa Barbara has no shelter for college-aged adults, and most 18 to 25-year-olds aren’t ready for what they encounter in adult shelters. “There’s mental illness, drug abuse,” Harrod said. “It’s scary to them.”
Valdez avoided shelters for those very reasons. A few of the homeless verbally harassed her if they saw her sleeping in her car. “That’s really scary,” she said. “I’d get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to drive [to City College], so I knew I was in a safe place,” she said.
Although she felt safe here, Valdez did not find the solution to her problem on campus. Even programs like Extended Opportunity Programs and Services only helps if students have specific requests.
“[Help is] based on what the student feels their needs are,” said Marsha Wright, Director of EOPS. As part of its program, EOPS can refer its students to local shelters.
“I think we do have a number of homeless students,” Wright said of City College, although it’s hard to tell exactly how many. Only a few come forward.
Valdez, who did not qualify for EOPS services, says she wants to raise student awareness of the homeless among them and try to provide them more services.
“I never would have thought about it before I came,” she said. Valdez recently wrote an open letter describing her vision for a better student homeless program.
Valdez ultimately found help-a local church couple let her live in a room on their property, and she was eventually able to save up for an apartment. But she worries that other students in her situation won’t be so lucky.
“They are too ashamed to say anything to anyone,” said Valdez. “But then who would help them if they spoke up?”