Homeless students' needs at center of rally at San Jose State University

Despite progress, San Jose State University and one of its student groups are at odds over how best to serve those affected by homelessness.

The Student Homeless Alliance and the university had worked out an agreement in Jan. 2020 on how to serve the student homeless population.

But a year later, the two sides see progress differently, and that is creating friction at a time of institutional change.

"Right now is a very stressful time for this population. Having to deal with finals on top of where they can rest for the night can be a huge burden for some," said Anthony Majano of the SJSU Student Homeless Alliance.

The grass next to the Olympic statues on campus is partially covered with symbols alliance members said represent an ongoing problem. Each paper house in place is for each San Jose State student who, at some point, experienced homeless last year.

"We have a moral imperative to break this cycle of poverty. And here at San Jose State University they can do that," said Rev. Bryan Franzen of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in San Jose.

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At a 12 p.m. rally Thursday, student homeless advocates decried the university’s efforts to live up to a 2020 agreement to help students in need. They said for the first half of the fall semester, of the 100 students who applied for emergency housing, only one bed was granted. Additionally, they claim the university demands students to take on crippling debt before being considered for housing help.

"What this university does is the old school of, you have to deserve a bed," said Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center. Added SJSU senior Tiffany Yep, "The school should be doing the work to provide basic needs. But instead they’re trying to get us to do it for them."

SJSU Assoc. Vice Pres. for Health, Wellness & Student Services, Catherine Voss Plaxton, denied those accusations.

"Students are not required to take out loans before receiving housing assistance," she said.

Plaxton pointed to successes such as consolidation of assistance services in a new SJSU Cares office. And, the housing of not one, but at least 60 students in emergency housing during the first half of the fall semester.

Plaxton said San Jose State is committed to cutting red tape to make the process easier.

"We look at the range of student needs. And sometimes a student may indicate to us they have needs around housing. And we find that it’s complex and connected to many other types of issues," she said.

Many students at the midday rally said that any progress over the past 12 months is minimal, and that this institution can do better.

"It is not enough to make claims of future implementation when deadlines have paste and students remain unhoused in their greatest time of need," said SJSU senior Samantha Shinagawa.