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NWWNC asks UCLA to offer safe parking to students experiencing homelessness

Students experiencing homelessness may resort to sleeping in vehicles on and around campus. The North Westwood Neighborhood Council approved a resolution Nov. 6 calling on UCLA to create a safe parking space for these students. The resolution followed a similar proposal by the Undergraduate Students Association Council. (Photo illustration by Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin)

By Emmi Deckard

Nov. 14, 2019 12:41 a.m.

This story was updated Nov. 14 at 10:58 p.m.

Campus and Westwood leaders have recently called on UCLA to create safe parking spaces for students experiencing homelessness.

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council passed a resolution during its Nov. 6 meeting asking UCLA to provide safe parking where these students can rest. The council, which represents Westwood to the Los Angeles City Council, also urged UCLA to collect more data regarding homelessness on campus and to share that data with its students.

Westwood is the most expensive place to rent within California, and students who cannot afford to pay may resort to sleeping in their cars overnight. Commuters who find themselves on campus late at night or who have early morning classes may also choose to spend the night in their cars.

Amir Tarighat, NWWNC transportation and safety co-chair, said it is UCLA’s responsibility to address this issue and be accountable for its students.

“There’s no reason a student should come to this world-class university and have to be homeless,” Tarighat said.

The NWWNC believes UCLA students are important members of the Westwood community and will advocate for them, he added.

The resolution follows a proposal passed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council on Oct. 29 asking that UCLA provide safe parking for students experiencing homelessness.

The USAC proposal came in response to the LA City Council reinstating a policy that restricts vehicle dwelling, especially near schools such as UCLA. Anyone found sleeping overnight in a vehicle parked within 500 feet of a school or park is subject to a fine.

For students who cannot afford Westwood rent or commute home every day to their beds, finding a parking spot to sleep in can be a challenge.

USAC facilities commissioner and fourth-year political science student Lily Shaw said USAC is calling on UCLA as a state entity to override the city’s legislation and establish an overnight parking lot specifically for students who sleep in their cars.

UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado said UCLA does not collect statistics on students experiencing homelessness because students are not required to disclose their housing statuses.

In recent years, more students have been turning to Bruin Shelter for temporary housing, said Bruin Shelter faculty advisor Michelle Talley. Bruin Shelter is an undergraduate student organization at UCLA that operates a shelter in Santa Monica for any student experiencing homelessness in the Los Angeles area.

However, the increase in applications at Bruin Shelter may not necessarily correlate with an increase in students experiencing homelessness at UCLA.

Bruin Shelter was unable to release the exact number of students experiencing homelessness all around LA, but Bruin Shelter’s director of staff and fourth-year biology student Brandon Phan said rising housing costs, tuition increases and stagnant incomes for college students have created significant demand for student housing.

UCLA, like many other universities, is still grappling with the reality of student homelessness, Talley said. While UCLA does provide student-initiated programs with faculty support, more can be done, she added.

“Whatever other additional services or resources that UCLA can support, I think that would only expand our ability to help more college students in the future,” Talley said.

In addition to supporting some student initiatives, UCLA has an Economic Crisis Response Team, an organization that connects students in financial need to campus resources.

The ECRT reported that less than one-tenth of 1% of UCLA students actively requested emergency housing in 2018, the UCLA spokesperson said. Students who are deemed financially in need can receive housing for a maximum of 14 days through ECRT.

The issue goes beyond students sleeping in their cars, said Shaw, who initiated USAC’s safe parking proposal. A safe parking lot would only be an immediate response to an issue that needs a long-term solution, she added.

“This is not an end-all, be-all for homeless or houseless students, but there’s a greater conversation to be had about affordability in the Westwood neighborhood,” Shaw said.

UCLA has informally responded to the proposal with concerns about hygiene and fears the campus will be unable to accommodate larger vehicles that students may be sleeping in, said Grayson Peters, Tarighat’s co-chair on the NWWNC.

Peters said the council has a $42,000 budget for the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year and is still open to supporting UCLA students by making donations in various ways, such as its recent renewal of a $5,000 grant for UCLA’s Community Programs Office food closet.

UCLA is failing to address an already prevalent issue, he said.

“When UCLA is a multibillion-dollar institution and there are hundreds of students who are housing or food insecure, if not thousands, that’s just an incredible failure,” Peters said.

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Emmi Deckard
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