By Kate Harker
The number of homeless students at Santa Ana College is currently unknown because the most recent survey conducted was in 2019, before the pandemic.
The 2019 Food Pantry Survey, conducted by the SAC Research Department with the Associated Student Government found that 11.2% of the students who responded experienced homelessness, or 178 students. It discovered that housing insecurity can take many forms as 55.7% of the homeless students have slept in a car or vehicle, 46.6% have slept in a garage, couch, etc. of a friend or relative’s house, and 11.3% have slept in a homeless shelter, as well as other locations. The most recent Point in Time Count, which is a biennial count of people experiencing homelessness in Orange County, was also in 2019 and found 6,860 homeless people.
According to Amber Vasquez-Nodal, a Student Services Coordinator at the Fainbarg Chase Thrive Center which helps students address basic needs, the pandemic has made food and housing insecurity increase at SAC since the 2019 survey. She says students who were already experiencing those issues before COVID saw their conditions worsen if they lost their jobs, leaving them with no income to support themselves.
Despite the lack of recent evidence, homelessness is known to be a problem at SAC. The Thrive Center has allocated about $20,000 in emergency grants for students toward temporary housing with local hotel partners, utility bills and down payments.
“Since the grant’s inception, we have supported 13 students financially. The majority of which were seeking support in finding long-term housing support due to a recent situation that left them experiencing homelessness,” said Interim Public Information Officer Dalilah Davilos.
Another example of the difficulty in determining the rates of housing insecure students is at the Veterans Resource Center, where students are reluctant to seek help.
“A big challenge we face is identifying our student veterans who are in need of assistance with housing. Many of them are not comfortable with coming forward to ask for help. But, we always encourage anyone that needs help to come and speak with us,” said Mark Canett, Interim Director of Special Programs at the Veterans Resource Center.
Housing insecure students struggle to locate places with stable internet access where they can complete homework and study for exams. If a student is living in their car, it can be challenging to finish their assignments. One way to address this is by studying in places like Starbucks with public wifi, but those places are crowded, making it hard to claim outlets, according to Student Services Coordinator Hop Nguyen.
“The basic need is a must to fulfill in order to succeed in everything else,” said Nguyen.