"It's hard to climb up the economic ladder when you're already set at the bottom while other people are already set closer to the top," said SJSU sophomore Bahati Burgess, who hopes to be the first in his family to graduate from college.
Burgess is homeless and told ABC7 News that he previously slept overnight at the school library.
At 6pm, meet Bahati. He’s an aspiring #SJSU design student and the first person in his family to go to college. He’s homeless — and often times doesn’t know where his next meal will come from. Yet, he’s on a mission to finish his degree and says failure is not an option. #ABC7Now pic.twitter.com/kSyqlP3KZT— Chris Nguyen (@ChrisNguyenABC7) December 7, 2018
"I would try to keep a brave face for my mom and maybe my friends around me, but I couldn't focus on anything," says Burgess.
According to a report issued by the CSU, officials believe nearly 11% of students in the 23-campus system are either homeless or have experienced some form of homelessness during their college careers. However, SJSU tops the list at 13.2% percent, which equates to more than 4,300 students.
"This can happen to anyone. One day you have money for rent, and the next, you don't," said SJSU senior Dalia Angel, who spent a month living in her car earlier this semester. "You have to decide whether you're going to pay rent, or if you're going to keep that money for food and essentials."
The Student Homeless Alliance is calling on the university to better communicate student resources when it comes to food and housing security. They also want 12 to 15 parking spaces set aside for students to use overnight, as well as additional emergency bed space in the dorms.
"They're hitting the streets and they're letting folks know about the very real concern, and the very real crisis that we're facing," said San Jose Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco.
This is Dalia. She goes to #SJSU full time, works 30 hrs/wk and is a senior majoring in sociology. This semester, she lost her housing — and spent an entire month living in her car at a rest stop. She’s a few classes away from graduating and is trying to stay strong. #ABC7Now pic.twitter.com/hFqlpFizQI— Chris Nguyen (@ChrisNguyenABC7) December 6, 2018
SJSU administrators say they're working with community partners to address off-campus housing solutions and plan to open a permanent food pantry next semester.
"We've got to sit down together and figure out what moving forward really looks like, and what moving forward looks like in viable and sustainable kinds of ways, and that may include some of the things that students have recommended," said Patrick Day, SJSU Vice President for Student Affairs.
The help can't come soon enough for students like Burgess, who was recently offered a shelter bed inside a local church. The arrangement was made possible by the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real.
"There is no quitting. It's either this, or we fall through the cracks. And nobody here, who's going to college right now, who comes from my background, is going to settle for that," said Burgess.