Bay Area homeless students ask community, officials to stop stigmatizing them

As a full-time student while working more than 40 hours a week for nearly two years, Matthew Bodo also lived out of in his car — constantly in fear of being ticketed, burglarized or harassed.

“It was incredibly hectic,” Bodo, 21, a Foothills Community College student, said in an interview Friday. “But I saw education as the only way to survive.”

On Friday, Bodo organized a summit on student homelessness that drew more than 50 students, faculty, community members and elected officials. The group spent nearly four hours hearing from a panel of current and formerly homeless students and discussing possible remedies to the crisis that has left thousands of students in the Bay Area without a place to call home.

Bodo, 21, said the stigma around homelessness discouraged him from speaking up and seeking out additional resources for a long time.

“I refused to call myself homeless,” he said. “I had a car, and I thought that was a home.”

Bodo and the other student panelists Friday emphasized that expanding the definition of homeless students to those who are generally without stable housing — those who sleep in cars, couch surf or move from one friend’s house to the next but might not consider themselves homeless — will let such students know that they can and should seek out resources as well.

Daisy Rosalez, 28, a student at Foothill College, said she never imagined identifying as a homeless student and living in an RV until she was forced to make the difficult decision in order to afford to stay in school.

Rosalez, who is also an advocate for the Mountain View Vehicle Residents, said community members and politicians often do not understand that there’s a broad spectrum of homelessness.

“(Destigmatizing homelessness) is not just how you react to people, that’s how you react when someone proposes that we lower the restrictions on vehicle residents. That’s how you react when you go to the polling station,” Rosalez said.

About a month ago Rosalez entered active duty with the U.S. military and is now looking to transfer to either Williams or Dartmouth colleges.

After two hours of break-out sessions, participants ranked what they felt were the top short and long term solutions, including providing students with a 24-hour study area seven days a week, with lighting and heat, a day center with showers and laundry services and a lot for overnight parking.

Other suggestions included creating a homeless liaison on campus and an app that would connect students with available resources such as food pantries, shelters and financial aid opportunities; providing training for faculty members outlining how to approach homeless students; and advertising services on the syllabus of all classes.

Currently and formerly homeless students participate in a panel summit at Foothills Community College on June 14, 2019. Maggie Angst

Students at Foothill College are not the only ones struggling to find sustainable housing in the midst of the Bay Area’s growing crisis.

According to several recent surveys, one in five — or about 400,000 — California community college students has experienced homelessness within the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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