Homeless Students Struggle To Find Housing in S.F. Without Support

Dian Blue Summers was able to find housing through a Larkin Street Youth Center program for LGBTQ students. (Nailah Morgan)

The phrase “starving student” has become so well accepted in the college vernacular that California State University (CSU) campuses have done little to no research into how many of their enrolled students are homeless, according to a report from earlier this year.

But, more than 10,000 students in California labeled themselves as “independent homeless youth” on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2013-2014.

According to the most recent California State University report, only one out of 23 CSU campuses have launched a program to help displaced youth. The report also states that CSU campuses need funding just to extend research on student homelessness and food insecurity.

One of those campuses, San Francisco State University (SFSU), has yet to directly address student displacement, despite an increasingly expensive housing market. The school provides housing for 4,000 of its nearly 30,000 students. Room and board cost between $9,000 to $17,000 a year to live on campus, while the median rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is close to $4,000 a month. To address the scarcity of student housing, the school has proposed a project that will provide beds for over 400 additional students by 2018.

Homeless students must access resources outside campus. Larkin Street Youth Center is one of the largest nonprofit groups serving homeless youth in San Francisco. The most prominent population they serve is the LGBTQ community.

“Homeless youth are disproportionately students of color, queer and trans students,” said Vanessa Raditz, an instructor for Bridge Academy, a Larkin Street class for homeless youth who are preparing for college.

SFSU student Alexis Moran was homeless after moving to S.F. for school.
SFSU student Alexis Moran was homeless after moving to S.F. for school. (Nailah Morgan/KQED)

Alexis Moran, 25, is one of hundreds of LGBT displaced youth in San Francisco. She was homeless when she started her college career.

“I took a risk coming [to San Francisco] honestly … I had no idea of where I was going to live. I was afraid of living on the streets,” said Moran.

Moran is from Bakersfield and is finishing her fourth semester at San Francisco State University. When she first arrived, Moran slept on friends’ couches before seeking help from Larkin. The group helped her to bridge moving from motel to shelter, until she finally qualified for a more stable housing program through Larkin.

“They helped me so much. They helped me get housing,” she said. “They helped me get books. … They have helped me keep my stability out here.”

Like other homeless youth, campus housing wasn’t a realistic choice for Moran because she says it was too expensive. She received a scholarship that covered only tuition. Moran hopes that SFSU creates more of a dialogue around displaced youth.

“I didn’t feel like I got any support from [San Francisco State University]. … I didn’t know where to go for resources.”

According to the California State University report, 79 percent of displaced youth don’t know how to navigate resources and available services. In addition, 49 percent of CSU staff said “they were in need of more information about how to appropriately support students facing these social issues.”

Dian Blue Summers, 20,  is from the Bay Area and is non-gender binary, meaning they don’t identify with male or female pronouns. Summers was kicked out of their parent’s house at age 17 after coming out to their father. Summers found solace at Larkin’s LGBT shelter shortly after.

Summers now attends the City College of San Francisco and hopes to enroll at SFSU next fall, and continue living in Larkin Street housing.

There is no state funding for student housing, and the U.S. Housing Department doesn’t offer Section 8 housing for independent homeless students.

The major factors leading to homelessness are poverty and a lack of affordable housing and access to public assistance. Students experiencing displacement are found to have lower educational outcomes and poorer overall health. Also, only 12 percent of low-income students will graduate from college by the age of 24, according to a report published last year.

Though some may consider student loans a quick fix, Summers and Moran both decided they didn’t want to go into debt. The average debt of San Francisco State University graduates was $22,441 in 2014. Over the past decade, aggregate student debt has quintupled, rising from $250 billion to about $1 trillion.

“It seems like this super simple basic thing: shelter for a person to live in. But for some reason, it’s something people just can’t have,” said Summers. “You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps when you don’t have a boot and you don’t have the stuff you need to make a boot.”

  • Primrose DeVille

    I commend them for getting an education but how about working part time while going to school instead of thinking you’re owed assistance. Life is about choices, the chick made the decision to move to sf to go to school, now she sings the blues about the school not doing enough to help her find housing. There’s a big disconnect and a sense of entitlement. Meanwhile the other one that can’t identify as either a man or a woman needs to pull down their pants and do some inspecting of the equipment. The flavor if this decade seems to be kids that don’t know what sex they are or want to be. Now we’ve got some that don’t want to be either. Quit trying to find ways to make yourself special.

    • August Nick

      exactly – while there should be a safety net – this is basically about someone who can’t swim, jumping into the water and EXPECTING someone to help … while at the same time bringing nothing to the table and excusing themselves from ANY responsibility because they are ‘homeless’

  • August Nick

    i just finished reading an article about the chronic issue of homeless using tents to live on the sidewalk in sf and i see this “I had no idea of where I was going to live” … why did you move here with NO options or resources? did this person expect housing, assistance, etc. to appear out of the same nothing they brought to the table?

  • jeffJ1

    I am sympathetic to these students’ issues finding stable housing and I acknowledge that the cost of living here has reached a crisis point for a lot of people. Lord knows poor and LGBTQ+ people bear the brunt of this crisis.

    And yet. A student who receives a full academic scholarship and then says “I didn’t feel like I got any support from [San Francisco State University]” is not a great example to trot out, especially when that same student admits that it was a risk to move to SF in the first place. This is a classic example of the risks people take to better their lives! I’m not sure who, exactly, is responsible for subsidizing such risks. The Horatio Alger narrative is a dangerous national myth for many reasons, not least because his protagonists succeeded because their “risks” involved doing something nice for a rich guy, generally out of sheer luck, and then enjoying his grateful generosity.

    The example of a student who was kicked out of their home is very sad and very common and certainly points to the need for solutions. I don’t want to have a demeaning conversation about all the choices these folks have made, but it’s hard to figure out what support is owed to someone who moved to SF because they felt like it would be a cool place to live/study, or because their hometown wasn’t working out for them anymore, etc. This *may* not describe the people interviewed here but definitely applies to some people in similar situations.

  • sugarntasty

    Statistics using generalizations reason of “homeless crisis” so damn typical without merit. Family instabled interest,narcotics abuse and mental illness…to account possibly 25% what can dept of health. Due problem nation wide argument youth displace due gentrification,candidately myself yeah…engineer and consultant. Prior before inflation and excessive policies of REITS “City Hall” once respect affordability no longer. Media looks upon unexpected majority not deficient. Able proficient Whites and Asians from working class backgrounds deterred 2 reasons rental crisis. Stratrification of pretentious expectations you must have credentials of “appropriation” you’ll read be specific. Most jobs around L.A and Bay Area skilled chosen trades encircled by hierarchy gaining entrance not simple. Youth many tried to obtain housing “Rodney Fong” (Mr.Can Do No Wrong) any suggestions London Breed seeking reelectin Board of Supervisors? A joke Bevan Dufty Mr.Correct (GAYNESS) once head of (Project Connect LGBTQ) unsuccessful egoism presently. I have my success rest not my guess nor stress this is bias. Spoken to youth many have goals,there just systematic not confused willing to find adequate housing hesitated due. SFAA,CAA and BOMA S.F rising rents SFMOHDC only fraction of availability it’s shame unfortunately statistics is used. Response youth should never gotten to this level insult to social justics of America,sadly gentrification arise in majority Democratic cities! Resolution for individuals take advantage ideal skills and jobs how retain residency learn about surrounding counties struggle. L.A,Seattle,Chicago,San Francisco,Long Beach and San Diego ratio of meager jobs dismal: crisis of failure not inabilities just income connotated with. Lack of obtaining credentials I gotten many LGBTQ hired in engineering and global marketing firms with non tech credentials. Soft skills willingness to enroll higher education “KOED” equivalent Asian markets majority residents process master degree to retain status. San Francisco is competiting lack social programs for less unfortunate,ballot we must go ask Rodney Fong S.F planning dept.Class A towers relevance I-Banking,Insurance,Law Firms,New Media,Health Care Management firms,Tech and Pharmaceutical corporations. Going build towers in San Francisco regarding “DTLA” opposite industries Chemical,engineering,petroleum and electronic cartels reading. How can this benefit youth mandatory training free certificatin class dependency cause urban blight everyone losing sight of problems! Furthermore to endure homeless youth ridiculed how,ratio of foreign students those affluent 35% this correct response. Which is inaccurate reason many holding jobs living on streets whom going rent with meager salaries forgotten senator of “GAYNESS” Scott Wiener D. possible mayoral candidate 2020. Decide micro-housing is resolution still not enought 5 M project young minds struggling to retain personal success time to address damage! Recommend established non-profit organizations earnestly decide your career goals” compared to foreign youth. Eventually be chosen for statistics example of retaining success! Most younger residents working “San Francampus” expected salaries, $87,000 to $240,000 battle raise not “minimum wage” (average salaries) rising migrant “Nerds” whom eager to support. Segregated policies of disparity solidarity now,unwillingness of City Hall to resolve crisis!

  • Sparky Harlan

    Sometimes you move to SF because you get accepted to SF State University and you really want to go to what is the best school you can afford. Over 40 years ago I chose to move to SF and go to SF State rather than UC Berkeley because it cost less for me. My parents refused to submit tax documents so I could apply for student loans. I worked part-time, went to school part-time, and, luckily was eligible to receive help in the form of food stamps and free medical care when I had a couple of emergencies. I struggled and was in and out of couch-surfing situations, renting rooms, and even dumpster diving for food, at times. But, as the first in my family to attend school, I was determined to stay in SF and complete my education. Was I a burden on society? Probably some would have said, yes. But, both my parents had been born in SF and I really wanted to go live there and go to SF State. After nine years I completed my BA. Ten years later, I completed a Masters at USF.

    I am now a CEO of a nonprofit agency, Bill Wilson Center, that provides similar services to Larkin Street Youth Services in Silicon Valley. We serve over 5,000 homeless youth and families and help them because independent and thrive in a difficult, costly area. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that these young people in the story should not have moved to SF. Instead, go to school in Bakersfield. Sorry, there was no way that as an 18-year-old I was going to stay in Sonora. I wanted to go to go to school in SF and study to become a teacher. We all deserve the chance at the American dream. So, in this time of divisiveness and focusing on what divides us, let’s celebrate young people wanting to go to SF and attend school. Let’s cut them some slack and understand they probably don’t always make the best decisions. Hey, why not lend a hand to Larkin Street programs to help out.

    SF was my home for 25 years and I loved its cultural diversity and quirkiness. Keep SF great — accept people who want to try and live in this great city.

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