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Group petitions UCLA to invest in shelter for students experiencing homelessness

Rise, a student advocacy group for financially insecure students, is circulating a petition that calls on UCLA to donate $1 million for a shelter for students experiencing homelessness and asks the university to update housing policies. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Inga Hwang

Jan. 10, 2020 12:43 a.m.

A student organization is circulating a petition urging UCLA to invest $1 million in a shelter for students experiencing homelessness and update housing policies to help housing-insecure students.

Rise, a student-led organization advocating for financially insecure students across multiple college campuses, began circulating the petition in September. The petition has almost 900 signatures, Andrew Castillo, Rise student organizing fellow, said.

Castillo, a fourth-year political science student, said he hopes the petition will reduce the stigma surrounding student homelessness.

“It’s not something that a lot of people are talking about, … but a lot of people can relate to it,” Castillo said. “And it’s just a matter of getting those people to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK, I shouldn’t be living like this.’”

The petition requests UCLA establish a university-funded, student-run shelter for students experiencing homelessness, or donate money and space for a shelter to be founded by students. It also urges UCLA to expand the Economic Crisis Response Team’s resources and revise housing policies to support students experiencing homelessness.

The ECR team supports students who self-identify or are identified by UCLA faculty and staff as financially insecure by proposing revisions to university policies, working closely with students in financial distress and providing meal vouchers.

Marlene Lopez, a Rise student organizing fellow, said she did not understand the severity of student homelessness until she began working with Rise.

“The more I learned about it, the more I was shocked to learn what these students are going through, and how big of an issue it is for how little it is discussed,” said Lopez, a third-year English and Korean language and culture student.

The petition claims UCLA’s services for students experiencing homelessness, such as emergency loans, are insufficient, and UCLA’s housing policies in place during academic school year breaks increase student homelessness.

Lopez said she appreciates UCLA has services for students experiencing homelessness, but feels these services need improvement.

“They have high density apartments for students who do not have stable housing, but (they) are not the best living conditions for students,” Lopez said. “It’s a solution but (students) are still suffering in other ways, like their school life is still affected because their living conditions aren’t good.”

Although UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado did not address the petition directly, she said UCLA is aware of the needs of financially insecure students, and is eager to continue developing new programs that benefit them.

“Housing insecurity is a serious and complex issue … caused by a variety of underlying factors, which makes a single proposal to solve this issue at UCLA very challenging,” Alvarado said. “We continue to strive to help all students in financial distress through a number of programs, including meal vouchers, temporary housing and our food closets, among others.”

One resource students experiencing homelessness have access to is Bruin Shelter, a shelter run by UCLA students available to all housing-insecure university students in the LA area.

Bruin Shelter provides its residents with housing, food and medical checkups, while graduate student volunteers from the Master of Social Work program help residents look for stable housing. Students are able to stay in Bruin Shelter for the entire academic year.

Bruin Shelter is funded by UCLA as a student organization. Associated Students UCLA has also expressed interest in supporting Bruin Shelter, according to Bruin Shelter president Abby Low.

Low, a fourth-year biology student, said she believes Bruin Shelter benefits students experiencing homelessness by providing them with a safe and stable place to live, allowing them to focus on academics and professional development.

She added she believes Rise’s efforts to establish a second shelter for students experiencing homelessness are valuable because of the size of the affected student population. Roughly 5% of University of California students, 11% of California State University students and 20% of students attending community colleges experienced homelessness in the past year, Low said.

Ariyana Mosley, a Rise student organizing fellow, said she chose to help organize the petition because she experienced homelessness during her freshman year at UCLA.

Mosley, a second-year sociology student, said she lost her dorm housing after an issue with her financial aid, and experienced homelessness for two weeks.

“Imagining somebody having to live like that every day and trying to pursue their education and find a roof over their head, that’s something that really got to me,” Mosely said.

Mosely said the financial aid office gave her inconsistent information about her situation, but the housing office helped her find resources such as the food pantry.

“(The housing office) was really helpful in helping me figure out my next steps in order to get back into campus housing,” Mosely said.

Mosely said she hopes the university will be receptive to the Rise petition and will improve and expand the resources available for students experiencing homelessness.

“I can see where (the university) is thriving and really trying to help their students, but I can see where they’re failing their students,” Mosely said. “We talk about these world issues and stuff like that, but … there are students here that are struggling day to day.”

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