South LA

Los Angeles Community College District launches pilot program to support students experiencing homelessness

The year-long program will direct over $1 million of funding toward L.A. community college students facing housing insecurity.

A photo of an unhoused encampment in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) will fund a $1.5 million pilot program, providing housing for over 100 unhoused students during the upcoming school year to relieve their financial burdens, so they can focus on academics.

Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of LACCD, said the district has worked over the last five years toward addressing the disparities that exist among under-resourced students through the budget process in the state and federal governments as well as in local philanthropy.

“This is another step that we have taken to address this acute need at our community colleges,” Rodriguez said. “Not just within our district, but also to raise attention for other two-year schools around the country and other universities that have students that are experiencing both housing insecurity and food insecurity.”

The program began on April 13, and it will run through 2023, following an LACCD Board of Trustees vote to direct over $1.5 million in funding for students facing housing insecurity.

“It’s an issue of high importance and of relevance to us as we try to provide support to students, so that they can meet their educational goals,” Rodriguez said. “And of course, to remove the barriers that exist around student housing.”

The district will also partner with five local nonprofit organizations including Jovenes Inc., Los Angeles Room and Board, Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services, Seed House Project and The Shower of Hope.

Besides housing, the program also provides students experiencing homelessness with food, wifi, academic tutoring, financial counseling and mental health support. It will also help with technology and employment assistance.

With the pandemic increasing higher housing insecurity rates, 68% of students come from low-income families while 53% of LACCD students live at or below the poverty line.

Gary Painter is the chair of the Department of Public Policy at USC and the director for the Homelessness Policy Research Institute.

“Because housing is so expensive in Los Angeles,” said Painter, “other cities that have that kind of high housing costs are going to see similar numbers of students who are making strategic choices to invest in their education but not pay the rent and rather pay other expenses.”

Aside from offering students experiencing homelessness a place to stay, the program will also provide them a space to focus on their mental well-being.

“They’re always going to be victims of that trauma,” said Mel Tillekeratne, co-founder and director of The Shower of Hope. “The whole point of all these programs is to make sure that we address that trauma and we give the kids the confidence and the tools to survive outside.”

The Shower of Hope is a South L.A.-based organization that provides people experiencing homelessness with access to showers, hygiene products and more.

“Students who need support need a place to live until they can get to a place of stability,” Tillekeratne said.

Garret Underwood, the founder and executive director of Seed House Project, an organization that provides L.A. youth experiencing homelessness with living spaces, workspaces and academic and mentorship resources.

Underwood sees the program as a way to fill the gaps within access to higher education.

“It means more so about being a systems changer…,” Underwood said. “More so changing different policies within the community college state, our community colleges just being able to provide housing for those youth that don’t have the housing that’s needed or can’t afford the housing.”

Underwood remembers his time as a college student and the challenge of juggling different financial needs.

“Student housing was one of the struggles while going through school,” he said. “So I can relate to that, but also just being able to support our young scholars with all the needs, all the wraparound services that an individual would be going through, going through high level education.”

The LACCD’s nine colleges have a single point of contact for housing and food insecure students to reach out to, so they can join the program, Rodriguez said. These personnel are available to speak with students about the various resources that the county and nonprofit sector offers.

“Providing a safe, clean, accessible and affordable environment is what we’re trying to provide through this pilot,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the LACCD believes supporting students experiencing homelessness is a collective initiative.

“It will require federal, state, local, public, nonprofit, governmental, philanthropic resources,” he said. “This is an issue that we all should be aware of and all should be working towards solving.”