Campus, News

How CSULB tackles student homelessness and housing insecurity

By Madalyn Amato and Rachel Barnes

Morgan Weber knows first hand how homelessness can affect someone’s life. 

From a young age, she felt the weight of the situation as a close family member struggled with addiction who soon after became homeless.

“I have that understanding and that holistic understanding of the burden and the sadness that you feel when a family member is experiencing homelessness, and you can’t do anything about it,” Weber said.

Inspired by this experience, she began dedicating her adult life to homeless outreach and advocacy, creating Long Beach State’s Butterfly Effect Club, a group that works towards providing information and resources to students facing housing insecurity and homelessness.

Weber currently lives in Gardenia with two roommates in a one-bedroom apartment, two of them sharing the bedroom. Weber sleeps in the living room.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the average monthly rental rate in Long Beach was $1,252 as of 2018, almost 25% higher than the rest of the nation.

“I can’t afford to live in the area, so I commute to Long Beach for school and work every single day,” Weber said. “I literally don’t have an option of living in the area.”

According to the 2019 Point-in-Time Homeless Count the city conducted on Jan. 24, last year, there was a total of 1,894 people experiencing homelessness in Long Beach. The report stated that 4% of those counted were students. 

In the area surrounding CSULB’s campus, 21 to 30 people were counted out of a total of 911. 

  • Individuals aged 18 to 24, 67 were counted making up 4% of the total count. 
  • Individuals aged 25 to 34, 305 were counted making up 16% of the total count. 
  • Individuals aged 45 to 54 made up the largest homeless age demographic at 23% of the total count. 

The California State Assembly is considering a bill that would expand the reach of the Cal Grant to be more easily accessible to students. If passed, the age cap, which is currently set at 28-years-old, as well as the graduation requirement, which makes the grant available only to those students with a high school diploma and not a GED certification, would be amended.

“They would actually be able to take into consideration the housing costs,” Weber said. “That’s what we need to be talking about is ‘how do we house our students,’ because if we house them, if we give them their basic needs, our campus will succeed much more than it is now.”

Christopher Stevenson, president of the Butterfly Effect Club, said that the problem of housing insecurity and homelessness for California State University students has gotten out of control.

“Just knowing that there’s one person that you actually know, that you’ve seen in your class that’s going through this, and then you have to actually think ‘oh wow, there’s 53,000 total within the CSU system,” Stevenson said. “It’s just a very staggering number.”

Part of its outreach includes putting on an event called a “Sleep In” where participants simulate being homeless by sleeping in tents on the University Library lawn for 24-hours to bring awareness to those facing crisis. 

“It’s symbolizing the struggles that people are going through on our campus,” Stevenson said.

The club also had information on campus and local resources available.

Of those on-campus resources, the Basic Needs Program provides the most robust amount of assistance for students in need.

Basic Needs Program director Kenneth Kelly said there are many ways it helps students who experience homelessness and housing insecurity. Financial assistance includes an emergency grant of up to $500, as well as housing in the dormitories of a maximum of two-weeks. 

With a partnership with CSULB Residential Life, the Basic Needs Program has access to three rooms that can hold three people for rapid rehousing. The program also has a partnership with local hotels to house students with children, as people younger than 18 aren’t allowed to live in the dorms.

The criteria for eligibility includes the ability to prove housing insecurity, procurement of immense medical debt or loss of transportation due to an accident. Students also are required to fill out an application detailing their needs and reasons for the application.

They also have options for long-term housing, according to Kelly.

“For long-term housing, we have social workers on campus that we work with directly,” Kelly said. “We provide the students with an appointment with one of our social workers directly and they start the process of looking at long-term housing.”

Recently, with the help of Basic Needs founder Rashida Crutchfield, the program has been able to look into more options for long-term housing with outside organization Jovenes

Jovenes can lease a whole building from an owner or a manager and sublet it to students who need housing.

“The way it usually works is that if a student doesn’t have the resources to move in … through our grant we’ll be able to provide first-month security deposit and the application fee,” Kelly said. “We actually have a donor providing money for application fees and background checks for students to get them in.”

The funding for the program has not been allocated yet, according to Kelly, but he said he is excited about the prospect of providing this service to students.

“It’s always kept me up at night, not having the ability to think about always having these community resources,” Kelly said. “We don’t want [students] thrown to the street and then back into a place to live, so we do our best to accommodate students in that way.”

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