Opinion

No one, especially a college student, wants to live in their car. This bill could help

Going to college is usually associated with moving up in the world, not spiraling into homelessness ⁠– except in California, where it can mean sleeping in your car.

A bill on the governor’s desk could make that last resort option safer for anyone forced to live in their vehicle, not just students. Assembly Bill 891 would require certain cities, including Sacramento, to offer safe overnight parking options. It’s a Band-Aid, not a solution, but it’s urgently necessary.

As many as 1 in 10 California State students experience homelessness during the year. At community colleges, the number is more like 1 in 5. And 38 percent of Sacramento-area college students report struggling to find housing they can afford.

Some students cope by staying with friends or in shelters, but too many are forced to sleep in their cars, The Sacramento Bee found in a recent investigation.

Alvin Prasad, a 31-year-old chemical engineering student at Sacramento State, told Bee reporters Tony Bizjak and Sawsan Morrar that, for a few years, he spent several nights a week sleeping in his car.

Opinion

Fortunately, he now has housing. But he says “he’ll never forget waking up one night to the sound of shattering glass. Someone was breaking into a car a few feet away.”

A missed opportunity

AB 891 would require cities and counties with populations of more than 330,000 to offer up public land for parking sites with security and bathrooms, where people can sleep in their cars in peace.

An estimated 340 vehicles are doubling as homes in Sacramento County, and an estimated 100 children live in cars.

While AB 891 doesn’t specifically address campus homelessness, it could help right a recent wrong for those struggling to find stability while working to advance their education.

A bill that would have required community colleges to open campus parking facilities for overnight parking so students could sleep in their cars failed earlier this fall. The bill did not mention adding security to the parking facilities.

Sadly, one of the bill’s opponents was an organization you might think would care about homeless students ⁠– the Community College League of California.

“By only including community colleges, AB 302 sends the message that parking lots are good enough for community college students,” the League wrote to legislators, according to CALmatters.

Parking lots aren’t good enough for anyone. People should have proper homes. But fearing for your safety and not having access to a bathroom makes sleeping in your car a lot worse.

Less flashy ⁠– but still important

If the governor signs AB 891 ⁠– which he should ⁠– it will send a message that safe parking is not just about community colleges. It’s about recognizing the reality that, in 2019 California, this is how people are forced to live. The least we can do as a society is make them safer and more comfortable.

Gov. Gavin Newsom already helped students once this session when he signed a bill that opens the door for college athletes to make money off their talents. The high-profile signing, over opposition from the NCAA, ensures fairness for the students it affects.

AB 891 isn’t as flashy, but it will help a greater number of students struggling to survive. Homelessness, not college sports, is the most pressing issue facing California today.

The students reporters Bizjak and Morrar profiled are hungry and tired. The burden of soaring rents is pushing them toward dropping out.

For those who leave school, the decision will affect the rest of their lives. That’s a painful loss for them – and for society.

Homelessness is not some rare experience for a very small number of people. Homeless people are families, students, retirees and people with jobs. AB 891 is an imperfect but essential solution.

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