UCLA rejected a proposal by the local neighborhood council to create on-campus parking spaces where students can sleep at a council meeting Wednesday.
As the most expensive place to rent in California, living in Westwood can be a significant financial burden for students. This has led some students to sleep in their cars or temporarily in other people’s apartments. In response, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council and the Undergraduate Students Association Council called on UCLA to establish safe parking spaces on campus and collect more data on students experiencing homelessness last year.
UCLA considers the proposed safe parking spaces to be unsanitary for students and is instead considering creating a hostel-like environment where students could pay around $15 a night to sleep, said Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck during the council’s meeting.
“We do not think (sleeping in cars is) safe,” Beck said. “It’s not sanitary. It’s something that the University of California, in general, doesn’t support. We evaluated what the options are and how potentially we can make that work, but it’s not something that we think is a good idea to solve the problem, but we do want to better understand the problem.”
Beck met with the NWWNC during its Jan. 8 meeting where he provided updates on UCLA projects and discussed possible ways the council and UCLA could cooperate in the future.
Beck said the number of students sleeping in their cars has been difficult to identify, and that UCLA believes most of these students should be considered students experiencing housing insecurity rather than students experiencing homelessness.
“They might live 60 or 90 minutes away from the campus,” Beck said. “So you may end up in a scenario where they’re coming here in their car early and so they theoretically have a home and either couch surf or potentially sleep in their car.”
Beck said UCLA recently did an inventory of its parking spaces and found only 13 individuals sleeping in parked cars. Most of those people were hospital employees, he added. Beck did not elaborate on how the inventory was conducted.
The idea for an affordable hostel environment came up as a safe and sanitary alternative for students experiencing housing insecurity, Beck said. A small-scale version of the hostel program with about 100 beds could potentially be launched as early as fall quarter, but a more permanent solution would likely require constructing a new facility, he said.
Michael Skiles, president of the NWWNC, said he is concerned that an affordable hostel in such an expensive neighborhood may convince some students with a home to compete for space intended for students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
“If you don’t build enough supply, you need to figure out a good way to ration it for the people that need it the most, otherwise it may be flooded,” Skiles said.
Grayson Peters, a member of the NWWNC, said he thinks the hostel-like space may not be affordable to all students and that he would still like to see the creation of safe parking spaces to help students currently in need.
“I appreciate the notion of the hostel idea, although I am not sure if it would truly be accessible for (students experiencing homelessness) if it would cost them $15 a night,” Peters said.
Peters cited a 2017 UC survey that found 5% of undergraduate and graduate students in the UC system had experienced homelessness at some point during 2016. Beck said he thinks that statistic was based on a broad question that may not adequately reveal the true number of students experiencing homelessness.
“So I don’t want to sort of completely discount the study, but I think it is not clear to me that we have 2,500 homeless students on the campus,” Beck said. “A real challenge that we’ve had is to try and identify what the pure numbers are and it’s a very sensitive issue so people aren’t necessarily going to volunteer that information.”
Beck said any student experiencing homelessness can receive immediate assistance if they reach out to the Economic Crisis Response Team. He added that there are certain grant programs and need-based programs open for students in critical situations.
“If you told me tonight that a student is living under the freeway because they have no place to live, I would want to know about that and we’ll find a solution for them to sleep somewhere that is safe and sanitary,” Beck said.