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Students are still struggling with homelessness

Under the Bridge Awareness Benefit event raises money for SHAA, new book to be published on student homelessness

The benefits of attending a four year university attract more than 484,000 students to enroll in the CSU system, yet more than 50,000 of them have experienced homelessness in the last year.

Eleven percent of CSU students have gone to school without having a roof over their head. This finding was part of a research study for “Addressing Homelessness and Housing Insecurity in Higher Education,” a book set to publish in June.

The book is authored by Assistant Professor of social work at CSU Long Beach, Rashida Crutchfield and Associate Professor of social work at Humboldt State University Jen McGuire.

They also found that roughly 400,000 students enrolled in the California community college system have experienced homelessness in 2019, and nearly 20% of students at HSU reported being housing insecure at least once in the last year.

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Community members bid on art donated by HSU students and local artists during the silent art auction at the Under the Bridge Awareness Benefit. All proceeds went to SHAA. | Photo by T.William Wallin

One group helping to reduce these numbers and offer resources for students at HSU is Student Housing Advocate Alliance (SHAA), who has worked closely with McGuire since the group was founded three years ago.

The purpose of SHAA is to advocate for the rights of homeless students, locate resources to assist students, engage in activism to help push this issue to the forefront and engage the larger community in the struggle to end homelessness.

Because of the work they do, recreation administration senior Ines Aguilar co-coordinated the Under the Bridge Awareness Benefit event at the Humboldt Bay Social Club to raise money and spread information about SHAA. The event was her senior project and she said her and her event partner felt SHAA’s cause was the best to address.

“I was homeless with some friends for a while,” Aguilar said. “We found housing eventually but it was scary. You think, ‘I’m a student paying tuition, how can I be homeless?’ I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to go to school.”

Aguilar said she didn’t know there were resources like SHAA on campus, and more students need to know what they offer. Aguilar would like to get involved with a similar non-profit organization once she graduates and said the goal is to be able to give back to community.

“We have a large percentage of homeless students dealing with housing insecurity,” Aguilar said. “(SHAA) helps with housing, food and just basic needs getting met.”

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Art was donated by local artists and HSU students. | Photo by T.William Wallin

SHAA staff member Daniela Prada also experienced homelessness while working on her senior project at HSU and said it encouraged her to get involved with SHAA. Prada’s project was about policy processes of homelessness and while conducting research she met other students who were navigating school without a home.

“I wanted to make it a personal project,” Prada said. “We started talking with community members who were experiencing similar experiences. There were a lot of students going through the same thing but not voicing it.”

Prada has been with SHAA since its beginning. She first worked as a secretary and then started working towards policy changes. She is currently an apprentice for a local law firm that she said is involved with family and juvenile criminal law, which intertwines with housing issues.

“There is a plan for us to look into complaints with tenants and landlords so we can know the platforms people go through in Humboldt county,” Prada said. “We are in a fucked up system when people are living on the streets and we are one of the wealthiest nations.”

SHAA Co-founder Michael Barnes agrees with Prada. Even with money in their savings and good credit, Barnes and his partner had trouble securing a spot to live when he transferred to HSU. It took them three months to find a rental.

Barnes said HSU was falling short of helping students secure housing and one of the goals for SHAA was to get HSU to partially take responsibility for the state of the current housing issue.

“They eventually took some responsibility, they should take more but it was a start,” Barnes said. “We felt validated, like all this effort was for something.”

Barnes said that other CSU campuses are looking to SHAA so they can improve their own campuses and help their students. A point-in-contact position was created last year for the first time, not only at HSU but for the entire CSU System. Co-founder of SHAA, Chante Catt, filled that position as off-campus housing liaison.

Barnes said they collaborate with other CSU campuses who don’t have a point-in-contact position and advocate for them. Barnes said in other states like Washington this position is carried out by professors who have rapport with students.

“It’s someone students can rely on and have an ear to the ground about what’s happening with housing opportunity in the community,” Barnes said. “The person of contact has the info but also the empathy of being able to relate with the experience of the student.”

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