by Jillian Wells and Alex Anderson
Cal Poly Humboldt served what is essentially an eviction letter to students experiencing homelessness and residing in vehicles such as vans, campers, RVs and motorhomes on-campus. To provide a comprehensive understanding of this evolving situation, we’ve compiled a timeline of key events in this ongoing story.
Wednesday, Oct. 25 – Initial Notice
Cal Poly Humboldt sent out a campus-wide announcement on Wednesday, Oct. 25, that sent shockwaves through the campus community. In the announcement, the university said that they have decided to enforce a previously overlooked policy, stating that students living in their vehicles on campus would have to find housing elsewhere due to “unsanitary and unsafe conditions.”
This abrupt announcement took the community of students living in alternative housing by surprise as many of them have been living in alternative housing for multiple semesters without incident.
“University policy will soon be enforced without exception,” the email stated.
The announcement didn’t highlight any specifics in regards to what the unsanitary conditions were, or how this policy would be enforced. The Marketing and Communications department for the university declined to comment on these questions.
For many students living in alternative housing, being on campus is crucial, because it’s the only viable way they can afford to get an education. With the increasing prices of tuition and everyday living, several students stated that if they’re forced to move off campus, that will cause them to leave permanently.
“It’s really hard for me to be able to live any other way,” said Carrie White, a senior biology major. “If I was forced to move, I would probably have to drop out of school.”
Students also prefer to live in their vehicles on campus because with the community they’ve built, it adds another layer of safety.
“We park close together because we look after each other … it feels a lot safer,” White said.
Friday, Oct. 27 – Alternative Living Club
The Alternative Living Club held its first official club meeting, which was originally meant to inform others who are interested in living in alternative housing. Instead, due to the recent announcement, they had an open discussion about the RV sized elephant in the room: the university evicting them.
The meeting was packed with students and faculty alike, who were concerned about the recent policy enforcement. The club meeting, which was led by President Maddy Montiel and Vice President Brad Butterfield, asked club goers to help support their cause by signing their petition to stop the eviction, and continuing to share their mass emails.
“We are now going to push for the campus to offer us resources and amenities in a way that would actually help us,” Montiel said.
Samuel Parker, President of Associated Students (AS), stated that AS would continue to pressure administration and figure out the root of the issue.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Parker said.
Many of the students at the meeting stated that the solutions the university provided in the email such as temporary housing were just that— temporary, and not a real solution for them. They say being on campus is the only concrete solution.
Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Official eviction letters have been served
On the afternoon of Tuesday Oct. 31, in parking lot G11, a heated meeting erupted between students and administrators after eviction letters were handed to students who have been living on campus in their vehicles.
Students pushed back against the decision and stated that there was no communication beforehand and that the enforcement and timing of this policy is extremely problematic for their safety and well-being. The unsigned letter of eviction stated:
“If this vehicle remains parked on campus after noon on November 12, it may be towed at your expense. Additionally, the owners of those vehicles that require towing may be referred to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.”
At the tense Tuesday meeting, students waited for Cris Koczera, Interim Director of Risk Management & Safety, Stephen St. Onge, the Executive Director for Student Engagement & Enterprise Services, and Dr. Mitch Mitchell, the Dean of Students, who presented the letters of eviction.
At the meeting, Koczera stated that the sanitary issues are what brought the conversation up, but that ultimately they are going through with the eviction due to the violation of campus policy that has been long overlooked. Koczera added that the camping on campus was getting out of control.
“It’s not camping, it’s homelessness,” White said, adding that this is a reflection of the administration, and instead of pushing them off campus into county resources that are already full, they should do something about it and work with the students.
Students also raised concerns over the technicalities of what enforcement would look like. For instance, according to Koczera, students would be able to park their vehicles all day and overnight, but sleeping in the vehicle overnight is what violates policy and could lead to citation.
When asked how they would determine if students were sleeping in their vehicles, Koczera said that it would be both the Parking and Transportation Services and the University Police Department observing the vehicles. If they see behavior that leads them to believe there are people occupying them, a citation could be issued.
Students continued to press the administrators about the evidence there was of them being unsanitary. Students argued that this evidence was not proof of them being unsanitary. Koczera stated that there had been several complaints about the students living in their vehicles on-campus, including that photos were taken of buckets with human waste, and a photo of feces on the pavement. Koczera would not say who took the photos.
Caleb Chen, a graduate sociology student who lives in alternative housing on campus, stated that he does in fact have a bucket outside of his vehicle that’s been there since mid-August. However, it’s used for foraging and collecting rain water.
“There has never been human waste in this bucket,” Chen said. “I use it to transport foraged goods that I eat. It’s a before bucket for human food not an after bucket for human waste. For the school administration to send an email to the entire campus accusing a handful of students of spreading human waste around campus is straight up slanderous.”
Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Senate Meeting
Alternatively housed student eviction notices was a topic of discussion at the university senate meeting on Oct. 31 in Nelson Hall. Faculty raised concern over the new policy and the negative effects that would be placed on students. The wording of the schoolwide email regarding the new enforcement of the university’s parking policy alarmed several faculty members who were in attendance.
Associate Professor in the Sociology department Michihiro Clark Sugata raised concerns over the new parking enforcement policy and the school wide email that was sent out on Oct. 25. Sugata worried about the new enforcement policies and the effects that would have on the well being of the students involved. Sugata felt the students were being wrongly characterized as unsafe and unsanitary.
“Regardless of the fact, if it is a policy issue, policy could be changed and the central fact should fall onto what is the best interest of our students and protection of their well being,” Sugata said. “And this is where the other two rationals become incredibly problematic…the language was that this was creating unsafe and unsanitary conditions for the community as a whole. Thus, our students were being framed as dangerous and dirty. And these are classic tropes that are used to criminalize certain populations.”
There are several campuses in California that have taken action to help students who are living alternatively. Long Beach Community College and UC Santa Cruz have set up alternative housing options and have provided services to students living alternatively. Specifically, LBCC set up a safe parking program that connects students who shelter in automobiles to a designated location for overnight parking.
Cal Poly Humboldt Sociology Professor Josh Meisel referenced LBCC’s safe parking program as a potential model that Cal Poly Humboldt could explore in order to look out for the well-being of students. Meisel proposed to the senate that the issue should be agendized, and that senate members should open a dialogue to discuss what is needed to help students.
“These are our students, they are not to be feared and there are models out there that we could potentially explore,” Meisel said. “There’s a model program at Long Beach community college that provides a safe place for students to park and have access to facilities on campus overnight.”
The meeting concluded with the senate agreeing to set a time during next week’s meeting to discuss the eviction matter in depth and review what further actions will be taken.
Thursday, Nov. 2 – Protest
Citing the university’s lack of compromise and inability to reach an agreement with students, students are organizing a protest on Thursday, Nov. 2 in the G11 parking lot at 11:00 am and will run all day into the night. The homeless students living in vehicles encourage those who wish to show their support, to bring signs, set up tents if you have one, park your cars and occupy the space.
Disclaimer: Brad Butterfield is an editor for The Lumberjack, however he did not help write or edit this article.