A local school official is proposing creative solutions for community college district students and employees facing homelessness or otherwise struggling with the affordability crisis.
Dave Mandelkern, a member of the San Mateo County Community College Board of Trustees, suggested transforming district property into a safe haven for school community members living in their cars or otherwise coping with housing instability.
The sanctuary could be established in a parking lot or other area suitable to accommodate amenities such as showers, bathrooms and other support services meeting the needs of those without a reliable living arrangement.
“Due to the housing crisis in this area, there are many who are in unstable housing situations and I would like to do something to address that,” said Mandelkern.
The proposal is going before the board as a topic of discussion, and no action is expected to be taken at the Wednesday, May 16, meeting. Mandelkern though said he hopes the initiative gains traction, as it could offer immediate relief to many in need.
“What I wanted to do is see if there is something we can do sooner than later,” said Mandelkern.
He acknowledged a variety of other efforts the district has taken to address housing issues, such as building workforce residential developments for employees seeking more affordable rents.
But most of those expansive plans require substantial amounts of time and money to ultimately render projects which only benefit a portion of the school community, said Mandelkern.
So to widen the support network, he suggested the initiative which be believes could accommodate not only students but also teachers and faculty subjected to unconventional living arrangements.
Mandelkern pointed to the roughly 100 students who recently identified as homeless in a district survey as evidence illustrating the need for such services. But he added there are likely many more living in cars, RVs, camping on couches or sharing living spaces with others who may not consider themselves homeless but would benefit from support programs. Furthermore, there is likely a population who may be homeless, or nearly so, and are unwilling to discuss it publicly, Mandelkern noted.
He also cited the food distributed through the district’s SparkPoint program accommodating those needing additional meal assistance as proof of the struggle many school community members face.
“It speaks to a dire set of circumstances, and it is sad that this is something we have to do,” said Mandelkern, regarding the existing support programs. “But I’m glad we are supporting our students and making that service available so they can pursue their educational dreams.”
To temper his expectations, Mandelkern recognized the proposal that he drafted from examining similar programs in Southern California is still in its formative stages of development, and may face criticism from school officials and community members.
Board member Tom Mohr offered his own critiques of the initiative, suggesting school officials work alongside their counterparts at the county to more thoroughly examine the issue.
“That would be a major undertaking for the college district and I think we would have to study it more fully,” he said.
Gleaning a better understanding of the amount of people who may want or need such services would be a starting point, suggested Mohr.
“We do not have any firm evidence on what the homeless situation is among students,” he said.
As college officials take on the discussion, generally Mohr suggested officials should move deliberately to assure they are considering all perspectives on the matter.
“This is the kind of topic you need to look at all the ramifications of, and that takes time,” said Mohr.
Mandelkern, meanwhile, suggested he would like the program to take shape more swiftly, as the needs surrounding homelessness continue to grow worse with the affordability crisis.
Should the proposal gather support during the discussion, Mandelkern said he believes it would go far to help members of the school community grappling with unstable living arrangements better focus on their education.
“This would help people live in a reasonable and humane way,” he said.
The San Mateo County Community College Board of Trustees meets 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in the district office board room, 3401 CSM Drive, San Mateo.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105
Note to readers: this article has been amended to accurately reflect Tom Mohr’s position on the board.