San Jose State Student Homeless Alliance Wants Papazian to Keep Her 2020 Promises

San Jose State University's Student Homeless Alliance is frustrated with the university administration's lack of concern over the plight of students in need of shelter.

After semesters of fighting to get the administration's promise to house homeless students, the student group and San Jose State President Mary Papazian reached an agreement in January 2020 that outlined a list of services needed to meet the demands of unhoused Spartans.

Since then, the University last month opened a permanent location for SJSU Cares, a service that provides students with an immediate place to sleep. SJSU also launched a pilot program of a dozen emergency beds on campus for students and it started offering emergency grants - all initiated by the student advocacy group.

Papazian announced her resignation, effective at the end of this semester, and the student group is concerned that all of the proposed changes in last year’s agreement are addressed before she leaves her post.

“Please know that [the Student Homeless Alliance] 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,” alliance president and SJSU senior Lana Gomez said. “However, [we have] 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.

“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 produced 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.

Student leaders said the problem has continued to get worse.

Gomez said there were four demands that have passed their deadlines.

Most important to student advocates is to remove the loan-maxing requirement. Currently, SJSU The student group claims that Cares requires students to exhaust financial aid options before they can quality for emergency housing. 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 is 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 countered that it does 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 that could include taking out additional loans.

University officials told students they could 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 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 questions you ask to get students a bed.”

The university said that 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."

Students say that until all the aspects of the 2020 agreements are met, these are ”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.”

Jana Kadah is a reporter with Bay City News.

One Comment

  1. San Jose State where great idea’s go to die! How about housing half a million illegals while you at it?

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