Opening of a secure overnight car park for students facing roaming

LONG BEACH, Calif .– Non-traditional students are becoming the norm when it comes to students on campus: returning adults, veterans, parents, and students without a high school diploma. Many work full time and some struggle to find a safe place to sleep each night.

“I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed because I was trying to go to McDonald’s. I would go to Walmart, try to sit in the parking lot and do my homework,” said Patricia Lopez, student. at Long Beach City College (LBCC).

Students like Lopez are stuck in an endless cycle outside the classroom, trying to get meals, a shower, and some peace of mind. When trying to meet the most basic needs, education often takes a back seat.

“Trying to find a safe place to park, make sure your things are safe, always stressing out who is there, who is going to try to steal my car, even,” Lopez said. “I was on the street, barely getting by on gasoline.”

A student and mother, she is one of nearly 4 million undergraduates raising children. As this month marks eight years of sobriety for Lopez, she has been homeless after leaving an abusive household.

“This is an existing problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Uduak-Joe Ntuk, board chair of Long Beach Community College. “And we were looking, what can we do now to help provide student services? “

A 2016 survey identified 6 to 10 percent of the LBCC student body were homeless at any time during the school year, which Ntuk said could number as many as 2,500 students.

In a nationwide study last year, 48 percent of students reported housing insecurity in the previous year.

“We have students right now who need help today. And that’s our goal, to help our current students succeed. And we can’t wait five more years,” Ntuk said.

The campus has launched a secure parking pilot program for students to sleep in their vehicles overnight in a secure location on campus. School officials say it’s the first of its kind in the area at a community college.

All currently enrolled students who experience roaming can stay in the secure parking lot, seven nights a week, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. They have access to free Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, toilets and showers.

“The students who participate in our secure parking pilot program, this is an opportunity for us to intervene with them and provide assessment and follow-up services,” said Ntuk. “Is there another place we can help move them that is more permanent supportive housing or temporary housing? “

He says this is a temporary solution as the school works on building student housing.

“Being able to have a shower, being able to have the toilet available to you, being able to have security, that gives students peace of mind,” Lopez said.

Although the pilot program does not allow students to have children who sleep in their vehicles with them, the college has helped Lopez and his daughter find an apartment. They also provided hot meals and groceries as part of the school’s basic needs program, equipping Lopez with the tools needed to complete what she started.

“I haven’t got my grades for this semester yet, but last semester I was all Ace. I have a 3.6 GPA right now, I’m in an honor society,” he said. said Lopez.

She will graduate in June with an associate’s degree in drug and alcohol counseling and plans to continue her education at Cal State Long Beach.

“It was, it was so good,” Lopez said. “Because I was getting help to build my foundation. “

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