SJSU homeless advocates frustrated with administration's actions, or lack thereof

San Jose State University's Student Homeless Alliance, a student group that represents the campus's roughly 4,000 homeless students, is frustrated with the administration's actions - or lack thereof.   

After semesters of fighting to get the administration's promise to house homeless students, SHA and SJSU president Mary Papazian entered an agreement in January of 2020 that outlined a list of services needed to meet the demands of unhoused Spartans.   

Since then, a couple of demands were met. 

The University opened a permanent location for SJSU Cares in October - a service that provides students with an immediate place to sleep. SJSU also launched a pilot program of having a dozen emergency beds on campus for students and it started offering emergency grants - all of which was initiated by SHA.   

But there is still a couple of demands the university has failed to fulfill and with Papazian's tenure ending in a month, the student-led group turned to the public on Thursday in an effort to ensure institutional changes were made before Papazian left her post.     

"Please know that SHA has been extremely patient in working with the administration over the past three months, and it has not gone to the press as we want it to solve these issues internally," SHA President and SJSU senior Lana Gomez said. "However, SHA has decided that it is time to go public to make changes more quickly."   She said since the press release was sent to members of the media, the university had been incredibly responsive.   

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"We have had more positive movement within the past week than in the past 90 days," Gomez continued.   At San Jose State, roughly 13 percent or more than 4,000 students experience homelessness within a year, according to a 2019 California State University report.   

Another report by SJSU Cares found similar statistics. 

About 42 percent of students surveyed were housing insecure within the past year and more than 11 percent of students reported being homeless for at least a day - with many students couch surfing, living out of their cars or spending some nights in motels, hotels or shelters to get by.   I

t's a problem that has continued to get worse student leaders said which is why they said its essential to fulfill all aspects of the 2020 agreement.   Gomez said there were four demands that have surpassed their deadlines and have yet to been met.   

The first and most important to student advocates is to remove the loan-maxing requirement. 

Currently, SJSU Cares requires students to exhaust financial aid options in order to get emergency housing, according to SHA.   Gomez said it's a practice that prevents students from getting the services they desperately need.  

 "Just look at the results," Gomez said. "Only one bed (out of the 12) has been used this whole semester with over 100 students asking for housing."   

Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center said the loan requirement was a violation of the state's "housing first" policy which states that anyone experiencing homelessness should be connected to permanent housing as quickly as possible and that programs should remove barriers in accessing housing.     

"Until you (SJSU Cares) drop your requirement to take out loans, you're not housing first," Harlan said.   The university said it did not have a loan-maxing requirement for students seeking short-term emergency housing and that case managers would work with students requiring longer-term housing to create a funding plan - which may include taking out additional loans.   

However, university officials told SHA that students would receive 48 hours of emergency housing assistance before considering additional loans, students said.  

 "In some cases, this may include the common practice of taking out loans to pay for expenses, like housing, that is part of the college investment. If SJSU were to provide free long-term housing to some students and not offer the same to others, it becomes an equity issue relative to other students," the university said in a statement.   

The other demands by SHA were to restructure the SJSU Cares Advisory Board Committee to give more space for student voices; require students who used SJSU Cares to take an exit interview; and redesign the SJSU Cares website so that information intake is more accessible.   

"Right now, if you go on the website, the first questions are about documentation status and whether you have maximized your loans," Myers-Lipton said. "These are not the question you ask to get students a bed."   

And the purpose of the exit interview, student leaders said, was to understand if students' needs were being met or how effective the program was.   

"If we had an exit interview, we could understand why over 100 students asked for housing at SJSU cares so far this semester, but only one bed has been utilized," senior Samantha Shinagawa said.   

The university said, however, from July to September of this year, SJSU Cares has provided a total of 85 days of temporary emergency housing -- 60 through university housing services and 25 using a hotel voucher program. During that period, SJSU Cares also distributed more than $27,900 in Student Crisis Support funds to 24 students.   

"We know there is still work to be done to ensure that every Spartan can recover from unforeseen financial or personal crises, and we are committed to continuing this journey," Patrick K. Day, Vice President for Student Affairs, said in a statement. "Asking for help at a time of great need should be as easy as possible, and SJSU is dedicated to ensuring our students have the resources and services they need to be successful in their higher education journey and beyond."   

But members of SHA said until all the aspects of the 2020 agreements are met, these are empty words and "broken promises."   

"Instead of broken promises, we want to see action toward change," Shinagawa said. "We want hard dates, open communication with our students and efforts made toward helping the struggling population of housing insecure at San Jose State that is ever-growing."