A leadership panel on homelessness tackled barriers and solutions to student homelessness in the wake of recent tent encampment sweeps on the streets of San Francisco.
Justin Wellins of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team explained that San Francisco has the highest number of laws criminalizing homelessness.
The most recent law, according to SF Public Press was Proposition Q. Implemented in 2016, Proposition Q gave authorities the right to remove tent encampments with a 24-hours’ notice and offer occupants housing. However, no new funding was allocated for the creation of housing or shelters.
SF State Asian American studies professor and Ethnic Studies representative to the academic senate, Wei Ming Dariotis, said that the the most recent sweeps in San Francisco weren’t helping anybody.
“They are not solving the problem for residents and business owners near homeless encampments,” said Dariotis. “Nor are they solving the problem of people who are experiencing homelessness because no other solution is being provided. They’re not being swept into housing.”
Senior sociology major Tangelina Griffin, who experienced homelessness in the past, thinks that the solution should start with teachers and in schools.
Griffin, now 36 years old, first experienced homelessness when she ran away from home at the age of 14. As a teenager, she recalled not having anybody to talk to at school. If her teachers had asked what was going on at home or noticed that she was struggling, she said she would have reached out earlier.
“I know how it is to not be able to shower. I know how it is not to be able to have a roof over my head,” Griffin said. “When you don’t have those resources, your self-esteem diminishes. And your performance in school [is] reflected of the way that your self-esteem is.”
One of the biggest barriers when it comes to funding is the federal government’s narrow definition of homelessness. The Point-in-Time count conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development only includes people experiencing homelessness who are on the streets or living in shelters.
SF State’s Health Promotion and Wellness Educator Aimeé Williams thinks that until the federal government includes the large population of people who are sleeping in their cars or couch surfing, the issue of homelessness won’t be solved completely.
With the CSU system currently underfunded, the barriers are stacked against the movement to help youth homelessness. When strategizing solutions to help out students experiencing housing instability, Williams wants to
address the main issue which is that the University currently has no idea what “houselessness” or homelessness looks like on campus.
“What we’re really trying to look at here with our student population is trying to redefine it and looking into those experiencing housing instability,” Williams said. “For example, a lot of our students could be living in an unhealthy situation and they may feel unsafe, but then they are not able to move because of the cost of living.”
Williams is currently working on implementing a pilot program that will provide a safe location with running water and bathroom facilities near the Annex building.
It will be open 24-hours a day, and since the University Police Department is located near the Annex, there wouldn’t be a need to increase patrol, which decreases risk management issues without needing to increase staffing.
In addition to this, Williams is also working on getting an apartment offline next year, which will serve as an emergency shelter.
Griffin, who is scheduled to graduate in May, accessed programs such as California Department of Rehabilitation, which helped her get back into the education and workplace environment and also Project Rebound, a program at SF State that helps students who were formerly incarcerated.
“I’ve had many homeless students over the 19 years that I’ve been teaching here and I always see them in terms of their potential, of course, because I’m their teacher,” Dariotis said. “By not solving this problem, we are not addressing what the potential of each of those human beings can be.”