LONG BEACH, Calif. — There’s a national wave of declining college enrollment. California is no exception. Plus, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2023-2024 state budget proposal, funding for community colleges could dip.
Typically, community colleges don’t guarantee housing for students. Removing this barrier leads to big improvements, though, especially for the young LGBTQ community.
Her car represents years of saving and suffering for college student Diana Centeno-Sicairos.
“This was really much where I spent most of my time crying and trying to figure out what I was going to do next because my home life wasn’t exactly the safest,” said Centeno-Sicairos.
Like many other LGBTQ kids, when Centeno-Sicairos came out as lesbian, her living situation became uncertain. Then she found a place where she could fully be herself.
“This is a safe space and they’re here to help me and if anybody ever feels uncomfortable over that fact like that’s really on them,” said Centeno-Sicairos.
Enrolling in Long Beach City College led her to Viking Residence with Hope Housing. This free option represents a partnership between LBCC and The Shower of Hope, a nonprofit known for its mobile shower units for people who are unhoused, but which also helps run several student housing complexes. It’s a small home near campus opened to some students just a couple of years ago, about the same time the school implemented a new preregistration survey asking everyone point blank about housing problems and other issues.
With this newly collected data, for the first time, Superintendent-President Dr. Mike Muñoz is able to say with confidence roughly 10% of LBCC students are housing insecure.
“We all think about the images of the children in the Taco Bell parking lots trying to access Wi-Fi to do their homework. These things have been happening for a long time, but I just don’t think we had the awareness and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem,” said Muñoz.
The pandemic is one of many factors contributing to low enrollment at community colleges statewide. It’s inspiring a few changes at LBCC such as free, on-campus child care for parents taking classes—a point of pride for Muñoz, who was once a single father himself working toward a degree.
“We have people in our community that are hungry to get back into the educational system and earn their degrees and enter the workforce, but we just don’t have strong support systems,” said Muñoz.
Centeno-Sicairos has made the most of what she’s been given, recently representing her school at a conference in Mexico. It was the first time she’d been back since she was a child, thereby furthering her education while also rekindling family relationships.
“My mom is undocumented so that’s where she was born and she sadly isn’t able to go visit, but I think by me traveling there and being able to bring back pictures… she’s able to live that moment in time,” said Centeno-Sicairos.
Last year, LBCC also started offering a safe parking program. This is where students who live in their cars are guaranteed a safe lot to stay in overnight.