California community colleges don’t want homeless students sleeping on campus

Nearly 20 California community colleges and community college districts are opposing a proposed law that would let homeless community college students sleep overnight in campus parking lots.

Their formal opposition to the bill marks a significant change in tone and strategy for those college districts, which previously did not take a stance on the proposal but raised concerns that it could expose them to tens of millions of dollars new charges for security, maintenance and liability costs.

Concerns about the bill prompted the Senate Committee on Education to add several amendments to the bill.

Most notably, campuses would be allowed to opt out of Assembly Bill 302 if they demonstrate “the community college is addressing issues for students who are experiencing homelessness.”

Specifically, the campus would have to:

  • offer emergency grants for students securing housing or facing the risk of losing housing;
  • dispense hotel vouchers through a public or community agency;
  • and provide homeless students with rapid re-housing referral services.

The bill also was amended to include a reporting requirement and a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2022.

The bill passed the Assembly last month with a 60-8 vote. Now it sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will weigh the potential liability AB 302 will carry for college campuses.

Despite the amendments, the bill is opposed by 18 community colleges and community college districts, including Kern Community College District, Allan Hancock College and the College of the Sequoias. It also is opposed by the cities of Pasadena, La Palma and Cypress and the Association of California Community College Administrators.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, proposed the bill after hearing from college students who lacked stable housing.

“The harsh reality is that students are already sleeping in their vehicles. When we do not provide a safe place for students to sleep, we force them into the shadows where they are most vulnerable. The long term approach is to build more housing, but while we work to make that a reality, AB 302 is a step that we can take now to ensure that homeless students have a safe place to sleep at night.”

The Community College League of California said in a statement that, “While we agree with the author that, like many Californians, homelessness is affecting many of our students, we are concerned that this well-meaning approach masks the deeper issue of lack of resources, such as financial aid for California’s community college students, and instead potentially subjects students to sanitation and safety issues.”

The bill is supported by the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the California Faculty Association and several other groups.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.