‘Safe Parking Program’: Homeless students at Long Beach college can sleep in their cars in parking structure

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Long Beach City College will allow homeless students to sleep in their vehicles at a secure on-campus parking structure overnight, school officials announced Monday.

The pilot “Safe Parking Program” is the only known program of its kind in the region at a community college, LBCC officials said in a news release.

It’s meant to help unhoused students at the college, which has at least 70 students sleeping in their cars each night, according to LBCC District official Dr. Mike Muñoz.

Enrolled students experiencing homelessness will be able to stay at the Pacific Coast Campus Parking Structure, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. seven nights a week.

They will also have access to restrooms and Wi-Fi throughout the night, and be able to use the showers at the Pacific Coast Campus in the mornings.

Participating students would also get help from college staff to find more long-term, stable housing, according to LBCC.

“Our goal for this program is that it will serve as a pathway to housing stability for our students,” LBCCD Board of Trustees President Uduak-Joe Ntuk said in a statement. “These students would otherwise have to be worrying nightly about their vehicles being broken into, trying not to be seen or bothered, and not having the police called on them, all while keeping up with their coursework. It could be an exhausting situation that makes it more difficult to get ahead.”

Students won’t be able to have partners or children sleeping in the vehicle with them.

The college contracted a security firm to keep watch throughout the duration of the pilot program, until June 30, 2022. 

“If we can help to keep our students safe so they can better focus on their student responsibilities, this program is absolutely worth pursuing,” Muñoz said in a statement.

Long Beach City College student Patricia Lopez used to live in her car while attending classes. 

She said it was difficult not being able to find Wi-Fi to do homework, and embarrassing not being able to shower.

“It’s very stressful because you want to be able to pass your classes, you want to be able to succeed,” Lopez said.

She was also faced with fearing for life at night in her car.

“So many people would walk around in the middle of the night and I’m just like, are they gonna try to break in?” she said

Lopez ended up asking LBCC for help, and the college found her and her daughter transitional housing.

She now hopes to graduate in June and become a drug and alcohol counselor.

A UCLA study published late last year found that 1 in 5 California Community College students, 1 in 10 California State University students and 1 in 20 UC University of California students were experiencing homelessness.

And including K-12 students, the number of students experiencing homelessness in the state has risen nearly 50% in the last decade, according to the study.

Researchers said the numbers are likely higher in reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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