By Argel Brown and Sarah Berjan
Community Colleges are resources for learning, job skills, and earning credits toward transfers. They are also hubs that offer vital basic resources like health services, food banks, and showers. City College of San Francisco (CCSF) has created a program that expands on its role in the life of students who are homeless or housing insecure.
An advisory group within CCSF created the Homeless At Risk Transitional Students (HARTS) program, addressing the issues that homelessness causes for students. Professor Chris Schaeffer managed the program for 30 years, dedicating 30 to 50 hours a week to the program. After his retirement, Maraea Natua Master took over, and is the current HARTS program coordinator.
The HARTS program (est. 1992) is dedicated to creating paths out of poverty and homelessness by providing access, advocacy, resources and support for homeless, formerly homeless, and at-risk students within the college.
The program focuses on building partnerships designed to directly impact homelessness by linking the resources of CCSF to broader community agencies.
“The program has done a little bit of shifting since then,” Master said. “We’re a part of student services but the program is still developing.” She wants the program to not only reach a more diverse sampling of the students at CCSF, but to expand its capacity for the amount of students it can support.
Students from the eight CCSF campuses are eligible to qualify for the HARTS program. However, the Ocean Phelan campus houses the program and the services available for students. The remaining seven campuses do not offer HARTS services due to restrictive funding.
“Our goal is really to close the achievement gap and make things more equitable for students who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk,” Master said, adding that understaffing has made it difficult to expand as much as she would like to.
It’s location in the Martin Luther King Center in Room B within the Student Union Basement allows HARTS to provide food card services, discounted transportation, academic counseling and a safe place for students. They also offer a computer lab with four computers within their office. Students are also able to acquire information on different housing resources through this program.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot out there,” Master said. “We help students navigate the shelter system and that is a very traumatic experience for most students…if they are in the shelter system and having trouble, we will help them at least receive the least amount of trauma while they’re there.”
Student workers help HARTS ease the student experience and with distributing resources to students. Juan Duran, the student worker for HARTS was recommended to the program by his academic counselor at the beginning of the year due to his major being Public Health Education.
“There is a lot to learn here and a lot of people to help who are in need,” Duran said. “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter your situation or the ‘type’ of person you are. Being homeless is such a broad problem that affects all ‘types’ of people.”
Students who are experiencing homelessness can shower and receive meals on campus. A clothing closet and a food bank is also available within the HARTS office for students in need. According to Master, the student’s academic records will be monitored throughout the semester in order to push for academic success.
“I didn’t realize this as going to be my passion,” Masters said. “It’s not just the empathy, but the compassion that it comes with that gives the best services.” Masters values her relationships with students, and believes a key aspect of the services she provides is a sense of belonging and inclusivity.
Laney College has no direct services for homeless students or students at risk of homelessness. There is no center like City College’s HARTS–yet there are many ways the community college supports its students. Laney offers many of the same services in employment, groceries, health and wellness, and even financial assistance. But students are left to stitch these services together to address their needs.
The Laney Employment Services Center (LESC) can help with résumé writing, interviewing strategies, and employment connections. They even have a program that sets students up with interview clothes. They are constantly updating an online database of hundreds of job postings called Eagle Hire, and hosting job fairs on campus geared toward various departments. Further employment assistance can be found for welfare recipient students at the Workforce Development / CalWORKS program.
Two wellness centers on campus provide behavioral and mental health counseling, health consultations and referrals. Students can see a mental health counselor up to 10 times per semester, receive massages and acupuncture, receive flu shots, and more – all covered in their student health fee paid at enrollment. Showers are also available in the gymnasium locker rooms for students enrolled in at least three units.
The ASLC offers a food bank on campus every first and third Tuesday of every month from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. or until supplies last. Any student with a current student ID can walk away with a bag of groceries.
If someone is in the traumatic circumstance of homelessness, then they are likely eligible for financial aid and student loans.
A document can be found on the Laney College website, titled “Emergency Resources for Students.” This document ‘lists information on housing for the homeless, food banks, domestic violence, and other information.’ All resources listed are not connected to the community college. The document was last updated Spring 2016.
These services are not a panacea to the student housing crisis. But for many it is the most direct resource, while exploring higher education and career options. Students should also check their eligibility at the Extended Opportunity & Services which can offer more aid like buying textbooks and counseling.
The City College Journalism Department, in conjunction with Laney College’s Journalism Department, worked together for issue 8 of our newspapers to produce a unique collaborative issue. Inside this issue you will find articles written using cross reporting, where journalists from each department came together and developed their stories under a dual byline. If you would like to contact reporters about questions or comments in regards to collaborative articles, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.