by Theo Greenly, SMC Corsair / Daily Press Staff Writer
An outpouring of Santa Monica College students showed up to the Santa Monica College’s Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday to offer their support for a bill requiring community colleges to allow homeless students to sleep in their cars overnight.
Assembly Bill 302 stipulates that California community colleges would be required to offer overnight parking to currently enrolled homeless students who are in good standing with the school. The bill’s author references a recent study from the Hope Center which found that 19% of community college students in California have experienced homelessness at some point in the past year.
Mason Mineo, a second-year student at SMC, told the board, “A year ago, spring of 2018, when I was in my first semester, I was displaced from my housing situation. I spent the night unhoused in order to get to my 8 a.m. class on time.”
The bill is aimed to help students like Mineo continue their education despite personal hardships.
“We would allow housing-insecure students to sleep in parking structures overnight in their cars,” Hunter Balingstrum, an SMC student told the board. “We would be showing awareness of the needs of the students that we serve by putting them at lower risk of physical and sexual assault.”
Although the Board of Trustees has not officially opposed the bill, Superintendent Kathryn E. Jeffery did write a letter to the Higher Education Committee chair that asked for the bill to be amended.
“I just want for the record for you to know that this was not a statement against the legislation,” Jeffery clarified, “but it was not a statement in support of it the way it is currently written and I asked for amendments.”
Jeffery echoed the same concerns raised by the Los Rios Community College District that “a one-size-fits-all solution will not likely help students as intended and may create even more stress for them.”
Kimberly Hernandez, a member of SMC’s Associated Student government, insisted that overnight parking is only meant as a temporary solution.
“Our intentions are not to create a permanent spot for these students,” said Hernandez. “The student board just wants to give them a grace period where they do not have to worry about where they park, don’t have to drive miles away from Santa Monica to prevent tickets, and we want to allow them to have eight hours of sleep for the first time probably in a long time.”
Another student, Lucia Aguilar Cole, urged the board to set the example for California community colleges. “We are the top community college in the state and in the region,” Cole said. “We are an icon. It is our responsibility to use our position and our power to make sure that others hear the same call. That they follow suit and stand behind their students as well. It is our job to be leaders. We are strong leaders. So support the students here. This is a school that honors pride. Make us proud.”
The board was largely supportive of the students’ efforts. “I was just moved by their compassion and caring for their fellow students,” Trustee Susan Aminoff said. “It was just very good. Proud to be SMC.”
This story was published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair Student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press