Over the past decade, homelessness has increased among college students nationwide, especially during the pandemic. When a student faces family insecurity or homelessness, they are at even greater academic risk than their peers of dropping out of school.
Community college students are the most affected by this issue, which we see nationally and locally. Within the California Community College system, which serves 2.1 million students at 116 colleges, 20% of students are homeless.
On campuses in the Ventura County Community College district (Ventura College, Oxnard College, and Moorpark College), an average of 18% of the student population is in insecure housing.
Ventura County Community Colleges are taking a stand to alleviate these disparities.
Basic Needs Offices at each community college in Ventura County were established to assist homeless students, those facing home insecurity, or who have multiple challenges, including food insecurity.
Ventura College’s Office of Basic Needs provides students with free food and essential supplies (diapers, toiletries, etc.). The office also helps students register with CalFresh, offers housing referrals – including referrals to homeless shelters – and mental health referrals for counseling, and provides access to showers and lockers at the campus.
John Ruff, Basic Needs Specialist at Ventura College, manages the day-to-day operations of the office. Ruff, who suffered from food and family insecurity when he moved to California, sympathizes with the students he attends. He knows firsthand the challenges and anxieties of students who don’t know where they are going to sleep day to day because they don’t have adequate housing.
A 2021 national assessment of basic needs insecurity among college students indicated that 48% were experiencing housing insecurity; 14% said they had been homeless in the previous year.
The #RealCollege 2021 survey from the Hope Center, a center for holistic renewal and training in Los Angeles, also reported that due to the pandemic, 60% of students experienced a basic need for insecurity in the past year, the highest reported in recent years.
In 2017, Ventura College worked with The Scion Group to conduct an analysis of the student housing market and demand. Scion’s local market cost study found that rents increased 25% in Ventura from 2010 to 2017, an annual average of 4%. Additionally, it was found that most students had difficulty finding accommodation. With rising costs and barriers to finding vacancies, the gap is widening for students in finding affordable housing.
An equitable solution: affordable housing on campus, as identified by compelling research and data from the Scion Group.
However, building student accommodation can be expensive. In response, Ventura College applied for the 2021-2022 Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program. This grant opportunity is new to community colleges and supports one-time funding to build student housing or acquire and renovate commercial properties to provide affordable, low-cost housing options for students.
The $62 million proposal recently received a funding recommendation from the California Department of Finance, bringing our college one step closer to student housing. Moorpark College and Oxnard College were also commended for their proposals to fund their planning for future affordable student accommodation on each of their campuses.
Matt LaVere, District 1 Supervisor for Ventura County and Ventura College Foundation Board Member, shared news of Ventura College’s recent recommendation. LaVere, passionate about affordable housing, was thrilled to hear about this potential funding opportunity for Ventura College.
“In my seven years on the board of the Ventura College Foundation, I have seen firsthand how housing insecurity has a direct impact on the college journey. From homeless students forced to sleep in their cars to those who have to work three jobs just to pay rent, housing insecurity continues to be a significant barrier for many people pursuing their college dreams,” he said. -he declares.
As college president, I believe that being so close to the possibility of having affordable on-campus housing for homeless students will contribute significantly to student success.
This is not just about providing a safe place for students to sleep, but providing equity for students who lack this basic need. Housing is the missing link in providing a holistic approach to student academic success.
Kimberly Hoffmans, RN, Ed.D., is president of Ventura College.