For Elijah Deliz, the hardest part about enrolling in college was figuring out what address to list on the registration forms. “If homelessness 101 were a college course,” he quipped, “I would have already passed it.”
The 22-year-old Mission College scholar shared his story earlier this week to call attention to a new Santa Clara County-wide initiative to house 100 homeless college students in as many days. West Valley-Mission Community College Chancellor Brad Davis, county Supervisor Susan Ellenberg and the Bill Wilson Center CEO Sparky Harlan joined Deliz at a press conference Monday to announce the campaign.
“The idea was to have something tangible and measurable to accomplish in 100 days,” said Ellenberg, who offered to rent out a spare room in her home as part of the effort.
The 100-student, 100-day pledge coincides with the publication of a biennial survey by the Bill Wilson Center—a nonprofit service provider for at-risk youth—which found that 22 percent of the region’s homeless teen and young adult population attend college. That’s up from 18 percent two years prior.
“We think education is the way out of homelessness and poverty in our county,” Harlan said. “But these students have nowhere to live.”
While local colleges may track those statistics on their own, there’s no centralized system for keeping tabs on how many of the 10,000 or so county residents without housing on a given night are also pursuing a higher education, Harlan explained.
Davis said at least 1,000 students in his district are homeless and another 2,000 are on the brink of it. And about 13 percent of San Jose State students report being homeless. But the regional database that tracks everyone who requests social services for homelessness doesn’t ask respondents whether they’re in college. The county plans to update its information management system to collect that going forward.
“Homelessness is a regional challenge shared by the entire Bay Area,” SJSU President Mary Papazian said, “one that cries out for meaningful solutions.”
For the sake of the 100-day initiative, that means putting a roof over the heads of students living outside or in their cars. But an extension of that effort should be to prevent students who already have a home from losing it, Deliz emphasized.
Though he now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Clara, Deliz said he juggles two restaurant jobs to keep up with the $2,200-a-month rent he got stuck with when his flat-mates moved out. That’s on top of a full-time class load.
If local leaders don’t find a solution soon, he said, he fears more and more students will give up on their college dreams.