To qualify for the program, students must be enrolled in courses, have paid for those courses and must be in good standing with their college.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, who authored the bill, said he was moved during five informational hearings throughout the state during the 2017-2018 legislative session, when students shared their stories of homelessness and housing insecurities that prevented them from completing their degrees.
The bill passed by a 10-0 vote out of the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Tuesday and it will next go to the Assembly Appropriations Committee in mid-May, according to Berman.
"When we surveyed homeless college liaisons, they said that housing is the greatest need of the students they serve and yet the hardest need to meet," Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, said during a press conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday.
The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and The Hope Center's #RealCollege initiative surveyed nearly 40,000 students at 57 community colleges statewide.
Of those respondents, 19% said they had experienced homelessness in the last 12 months and 20% said they had experienced having to sleep in their cars.
Extrapolating that to California's community-college population of 2.1 million students, almost 400,000 students statewide have experienced homelessness in the last year.
"Four hundred thousand homeless community-college students in California is totally unacceptable," Berman said.
The assemblyman said he wants to tackle this issue head-on with feasible short-term solutions that have never been done before, such as AB 302.
"It's not like these kids don't exist, and we need to stop pretending like they don't exist," Berman said.
"These students are sleeping in their cars, in our communities, tonight. It's happening," he added.
Students also addressed how these basic-need insecurities are not just getting in the way of their education but creating concerns for their overall safety.
"I was working full time and I was going to school in the evenings, and after I left class each night, the biggest challenge for me was where am I going to go?" said Anthony White, a second-year Palomar College student and veteran of the U.S. Marines.
White said he lived in his truck for eight months while being a full-time dad but decided to send his son to live with his mom out of state because his housing situation was not stable enough.
Matthew Bodo, a third-year student at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, also experienced homelessness off and on for about two years. He primarily slept in his car while couch surfing and trying to find a stable place to live.
Bodo said he was a full-time student at the time he was homeless and worked a full-time job but was still unable to afford rent. He then tried to sleep at the parking facilities on Foothill College's campus but was met with resistance from police, who asked him to leave.
"So I resorted to sleeping nearby off campus, which was not well received by the residents of the area," Bodo said.
Residents vandalized his car, which also served as his home, and the damage made more of an impact because of that, he said.
"I ended up parking farther and farther away from campus to try and find somewhere legal and safe, which was problematic because every day before starting my day at work or school, I would travel to campus to use the showers that were available to all students," he said.
The showers and other facilities Bodo accessed were recently made available to students through another bill already passed, AB 1995.
The wording of AB 302 is still vague because Berman said he wants as much flexibility for individual colleges' governing boards to come up with their own plans, including figuring out how to identify these students, setting quiet hours and working with local police to ensure security.
Berman said he knows he is asking a lot already from community colleges but assured he is asking the same from everyone.
"We as a society have failed miserably; we have failed to build the amount of housing necessary to house our students, to house our retirees, to house our workers," Berman said.
"And because we as a society have failed miserably over the last few decades, we now have to look for creative solutions to address the repercussions of our failures."
This story contains 782 words.
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