Homeless Students Struggle On Campus

el Don / Photo illustration by Bre Castaneda

At least one in 10 Santa Ana College students don’t have a permanent place to live. But not everyone is on the streets. 

A recent survey by the college’s Research Department indicates that the majority of homeless students spend nights in their vehicle, basement, friend’s house or in a motel. Not including those who are only a paycheck away from having no roof over their heads. 

“Santa Ana College recognizes that homelessness is a major social issue as well as a concern for our college community,” Vice President of Student Services Vaniethia Hubbard said.

Homeless students enrolled at SAC can look for resources ranging from food to hygiene and assistance in the Financial Aid Office, Health and Wellness Center, Veteran’s Resource Center and through CalWorks. They can also use campus showers while the Rancho Santiago Community College District’s Board of Trustees is in the process of establishing shower use regulations.

At the moment, students have been allowed to use showers at community colleges under an assembly bill that went into effect in 2017. Due to this bill, students are granted shower access after they verify their homelessness status with school. SAC students can use showers after approval from the Financial Aid Office. This semester 10 people came forward to gain access to the showers. 

Last October, the board directed Chancellor Marvin Martinez to create more specific procedures to allow homeless students who are enrolled at SAC to have access to the locker showers. The recent board policy is attempting to simplify the procedures so these students can easily use the school’s facilities. Although they have to be in good standing with the district and have paid their fees.   

“This is one of many efforts to remove barriers for our students. Hopefully, this policy will remove an obstacle for some students to attend class,” Hubbard said.

Additional financial support for students experiencing homelessness is available to those who fill out the Independent Status Confirmation – Unaccompanied Homeless Youth form in the Financial Aid Office. 

According to Financial Aid Associate Dean Robert Manson, services for students vary by situation and can be complicated to navigate. Some homeless students have to be younger than 22 or 25 years old to receive certain benefits. He said that the Independent Status Confirmation applies only for unaccompanied students and people who are homeless with a parent don’t qualify.  

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The Veteran’s Resource Center and the Health and Wellness Center are also helping students by referring them to the housing resources and shelters, offering free snacks and hygiene kits that contain necessary items like toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and others. The latter refers students to free housing as well and food places available on the website 211.oc.org

Having no access to these resources can affect students’ mental health and have a real impact on student success. 

“College is a stressful time for everybody but adding to it the inability to eat or not knowing where to sleep, that impacts their ability to perform well at school,” a coordinator of the Health and Wellness Center Rebecca Bernard said. “We provide mental health counseling for students who want to talk about it.”

Jill Sorathia Kapil, a psychologist from the Health and Wellness Center, said that not having a safe environment and an ongoing place to live can impact students’ emotions, stress levels and lead to depression. In her opinion, regular sleep and meals are helpful to cope.  

“Homelessness is just one component that can impact mental health,” Kapil said. “A lot of people choose to be homeless and they are mentally healthy.”

Students can also apply for monthly food benefits through CalFresh, a state-funded financial aid program for food. The school created The Housing and Food Resource Guide, which lists many of these free assets around Santa Ana.

Hubbard said that the college is actively working with nonprofit organizations to find available housing and support services for homeless students. She recognizes that the stigma may put real difficulties in finding all of the housing insecure students who need help. 

“We understand that it is not easy for students to share their personal situation yet there are several faculty and staff on campus to help connect students with nearby resources,” Hubbard said.

Marta Konarska
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