SJSU students propose homeless encampment on campus

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The topic of homelessness took center stage on the San Jose State University campus Thursday afternoon as students demanded action from university officials.

"It's frustrating, it's confusing, it's embarrassing," says Gigi Bolanos, founder of SJSU's Student Housing Alliance. "You as a student don't want to be perceived as weak."

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According to a report released by the California State University system, officials estimate more than one-tenth of its students statewide experienced some form of homelessness in 2017. However, that figure is even higher in Silicon Valley, where housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years.

"It was really painful," said SJSU junior Juan Marrufo, who spent a part of his freshman year living on the streets of San Jose. "You fear for your life every single day."

The CSU study found 13.2% of SJSU students reported being homeless one or more times last year. As the price of tuition, as well as room and board continue to go up, students are turning to places like the university's library for shelter overnight. Some are even sleeping outside behind the Student Union building.

"I have several of my students that are homeless right now," said SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton. "I have a student living in a church that can't find housing."

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The alliance is now proposing a legal encampment to be set up on campus similar to tent cities that have been erected on other college campuses nationwide. Students proposed the idea at a rally Thursday afternoon.

SJSU President Mary Papazian did not attend the rally, but released a statement saying in part: "SJSU is in active discussions with community and regional stakeholders. The student experience will guide our work."

Papazian also added that the university has created a program to help students in need, and secured a grant to fund a permanent food pantry and emergency housing services.

Alliance members are hoping for additional resources and say they will continue to press university officials to do more.

"We want a seat at their table," said Bolanos. "We want to be the student voice."

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