- Written by Jingxi Zhai
06 Dec 2011
OCCUPY EDUCATION - Jay sleeps on a couch in Powell Library.
It’s 3 a.m., and freezing cold. He’ll probably only get two hours of sleep tonight.
Jay, who asked for his name be withheld for privacy reasons, has been homeless for four and a half weeks. On top of typical student concerns like midterms, he also has to worry about finding a place to sleep for the night.
“I have been in the process of three job applications and it’s a struggle to balance that, studying and going hungry,” Jay said.
To help students like Jay combat homelessness, the Undergraduate Students Association Council has teamed up with a UCLA students-only website to provide temporary housing for students, even if it’s just for a night.
By using a secure database, the new initiative backed by the USAC President’s Office allows users to offer a place to stay to fellow students in need.
“The fact that several hundred fellow Bruins do not have a roof over their heads made me realize during my campaign that something had to be done,” said Adam Swart, chief of staff for the USAC President’s Office. Swart came up with the idea during his campaign for USAC president last spring.
Swart said the number of homeless students on campus is difficult to pinpoint because people cannot instantly recognize people who are homeless.
The database is set up using theUnifieds.com, a UCLA-only version of Craigslist, which has agreed to place listings for “couch-surfing” on its website under the category “Places to Crash.”
Only students in apartments may list their offer because of liability in terms of space available in on-campus residence halls, said Swart, a third-year political science student.
Students may post to the site anonymously, and signing up for the website is free, requiring only a valid UCLA email.
This ensures security and privacy for users, Swart said.
Matthew Spring, former director of BruINTENT, a student-run program to help homeless Bruins, said the stigma of homelessness has contributed to a lack of awareness about the issue. The affected students do not want to be identified, he said.
Furthermore, homeless students are scared to reach out for help because they don’t know who to trust and aren’t aware of support systems available to them, said Spring, a fourth-year political science student.
“Everyone just assumes the people who walk next to you on Bruin Walk are heading back to their dorm or apartments after classes when they’re actually going to their car or Powell Library because they’ve got nowhere else,” he said.
Spring said he hopes more projects like this one continue to reach out and support these students.
Davontae Foxx-Drew, a second-year Afro-American studies student, said he became aware of the issue of homelessness on campus while working at the Academic Counseling Office.
He said he would be willing to offer his bed to a student who needed it.
“I’m always willing to help someone out and this sounds easy enough,” Foxx-Drew said. “I predict more people will sign up when they’re more aware of it.”
Adriana Kwicinski, a second-year undeclared student, said she also liked the idea. She added, however, that she is unsure how many people will actually post or take advantage of the listings.
Jay said he has high hopes for the initiative and hopes it will break down the stigma that comes with being homeless.
“It will definitely make a difference when people are willing to do something special like that,” he said.
“It doesn’t even have to be a couch. Just a floor, somewhere warm, is something I’d be really thankful for.”
Last week, he received some good news. After having to borrow from friends and many other resources to pay for his tuition this quarter, the UCLA Financial Aid Office approved Jay’s Satisfactory Academic Progress appeal. The FAO will refund him his tuition for the quarter.
(Jingxi Zhai writes for the Daily Bruin where this article was first posted.) -cw
Tags: UCLA, Daily Bruin, homeless, homeless students
Vol 9 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 6, 2011