The Omicron surge threw plans for reopening UC San Diego in a smooth manner into disarray. Now, the housing availability crisis which occurred during the fall and the big issue of housing insecurity is still in the picture.
As many students returned to campus for the Fall Quarter, the issue of housing security and availability arose during the scramble to find housing. With the university’s need for housing to reflect the COVID-19 infection rates and living costs in California still remaining high, housing insecurity and even homelessness are here to stay.
UC San Diego already promised to resume putting three students in a dorm and adding 700 undergraduate beds for the upcoming Fall Quarter–something they could not do before because of social distancing purposes.
In fact, this Winter Quarter does not offer triple housing for residence halls and apartments. The main reason for the lack of triples is the rise of the highly infectious Omicron virus cases; but with falling infection rates, the need for ample housing near campus is more vital than ever.
The hope for students is that with a complex of 2,000 more beds coming onto campus in 2023, more relief can come for those who need on-campus housing–although even these spaces don’t fully take into account the increasing enrollment into University of California campuses.
As of Winter 2022, there are a total of 40,873 students, which is a rise of more than a couple thousand from Winter 2020. This is unprecedented because the year 2035 — not this one — had expected to see this amount of students.
The issue of homelessness also plays a role in the housing situation in California. The view on those who lack and/or cannot afford proper housing may be through a more sympathetic lens than the perception of the homeless population. However, the issues can and do intertwine.
After all, homelessness is related to very severe housing insecurity; the lack of affordable housing and other issues also fall under housing insecurity.
Moreover, homelessness–perhaps not commonly on UCSD campus but in general — increased even before COVID-19 with California consistently being home to the most homeless individuals and the nation having more than 580,000 homeless individuals in a single night of 2020.
Governor Gavin Newsom presented a plan that addresses vulnerable, homeless individuals, promising an extra $2 billion to a plan for mental health housing and services and clearing encampments. This is on top of a $12 billion package for 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots.
Due to COVID-19 and the concern of the unsheltered population, more attention is focused on these financial packages. But much homeless assistance functions on the local level to accommodate the different communities’ needs and there is a risk of these investments not succeeding without strict goals of sheltering homeless individuals.
Unsurprisingly, being of a low-income household is just one of the factors that can propel one to housing insecurity and homelessness. Low-income Californians for one can end up spending more than half their income on housing.
In UC system’s booklet of improving student basic needs, the price of a California home is much higher than the national average and UC campuses are located in coastal areas where real estate prices are the priciest in California. There is also no new financial aid to help cover the cost increases of on-campus housing and the maintenance of a home such as amenities.
Despite this aid, what is striking is how there can be different perceptions on homelessness and varying incomes based on those with different political leanings.
For instance, national correspondent Philip Bump of The Washington Post says that Trump connected issues like homelessness to his political opponents. Blue-state major cities did notably see the homeless population rise while in red states, major city numbers dropped–California, for example, possesses the largest homeless population. This, however, didn’t take into consideration how homelessness is more visible in big city states or how statistics of homelessness in rural states may not be represented as properly as urban states, especially amidst COVID.
According to a 2017 Pew Research article, there are partisan differences in perceptions over what makes someone rich or poor. For example, Republicans are more likely to say that one is poor due to a lack of effort than circumstances they weren’t in control of, while an immense majority of Democrats say that one being poor is tied to circumstances beyond their control; both groups also saw one being rich based on efforts versus having more advantages differently.
In the 2018 findings, the results were similar as almost half of Republican groups dubbed those poor due to lack of effort than 31% who said that they were circumstances beyond control while in 2017, it was 56% to 32%. While these partisan differences are notable, there are also different perspectives based on gender, varying incomes, and more.
This data is intriguing because it can explain how many attribute homelessness to one’s own personal shortcomings while others emphasize the effect factors like mental health or housing crises have on the homeless.
Interestingly enough, findings point to how housing availability was the primary predictor of the subsequent ability to avoid homelessness. Better services reduced the risk of homelessness if housing was also available, according to research and experiments done to test the effectiveness of housing and service interventions for the homeless with severe mental health problems.
This is in contrast to many who solely attribute homelessness to substance abuse and mental health problems. When one views homelessness in terms of affordable housing, there can be a more sympathetic perspective that relieves some responsibility from the homeless individual’s character.
Because homelessness has a link to criminal justice involvement, substance abuse, and mental health issues, the perception of them may not be as sympathetic as for a struggling student. However, it might be notable to see how the chances of chronic homelessness increase with vulnerable statuses such as poverty, former incarceration status, and housing issues as well.
According to UCLA Law Review, individuals need a safe and stable home first, then a focus on mental health services. For instance, as stated in the work, one who is “chronically homeless” or homeless for more than a year is more likely to experience mental health issues and involvement with the justice system than those who struggle with homelessness on an intermittent basis. Homelessness can wreak havoc on one’s feelings of stability.
The concept of not having physical stability can apply to students as well, with an improper living situation translating into a plethora of problems.
“Housing costs are the highest contributor to student debt and among the most significant contributing factors to students’ unstable and unhealthy basic needs experience,” the UC system’s booklet on improving student basic needs from 2020 goes. “In general…financial aid funding has not kept pace with the rise in both on-and off-campus housing.”
Thus, housing and food insecurity–which go hand-in-hand– affect individuals’ mental health among other things like student GPA. But getting to the root of the issue before homelessness enters can be life-changing, and this includes confronting problems like limited kitchen access to unsafe or far housing conditions. However, once costs enter the picture, choices become limited as to what an individual can do to lessen the burdens of a far, taxing commute or a more roommate-packed environment when these options also help one save money or rent costs.
If one is in dire need of emergency housing on campus at UCSD, they may rely on Basic Needs. The process begins when one fills out a Basic Needs Assistance form but they may also email [email protected] for temporary housing.
In the less severe scenario, a student who needs housing could find some solace in affordable off-campus housing with the help of an overview presented by the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) and consultations.
But ultimately, these sources just don’t take away how San Diego rent and housing costs are known to be very high, especially in the La Jolla area. Housing close to campus is attractive and cuts on commute time, but it proves to be higher in costs than off-campus housing.
Sean Read, a chief program officer at a non-profit called Friendship Place that aids homeless individuals, states that homelessness is generally a delayed response to economic issues. Government aid for housing could still be insufficient for someone to have a home the next year or so. Similarly, a student who cannot afford housing may eventually find themselves living in their car for a bit or couch-surfing before they are able to access Basic Needs.
Still, by June 2025, one of the goals for UC Basic Needs is to reduce the proportion of undergraduate students who have experienced housing insecurity or non-permanent housing–in this case– by 50%. Another aim is to reduce the proportion of graduate students who have experienced homelessness by the same percentage. Factors like being a foster youth, LGBTQ+, or low-income affect one’s chances of being homeless even more.
On another brighter note, according to UCSD Associated Students (ASUCSD), their Instagram states that the University Community Planning Group (UCPG) established authority over land use in University City. For instance, it has limited high-density housing projects such as apartments near campus for the past few decades.
The University Community Planning Group (UCPG) is an organization that represents North and South University in the City of San Diego’s planning process; they have been holding meetings every month, with UCSD also participating in their meetings that involve the area near campus.
Thus, if one lives off campus or lives in the University City, ASUCSD states that they could register to become a member of the UCPG by Feb. 7 and vote for student representatives that can address the housing crisis so that they have more of a voice in the housing matter.
The root causes of one’s predicament isn’t always clear. Being sympathetic about it isn’t a necessity, but seeing the real picture is. Housing insecurity such as bearing the weight of expensive housing isn’t mutually exclusive with homelessness. Ultimately, a lack of stability is impactful and cyclical as it leads to more issues for the individuals such as mental health problems and financial crises.