During my six years in Sacramento as an assemblymember representing Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, I have had the pleasure and privilege to work on dozens of significant pieces of legislation.
I have fought my hardest to champion environmental, higher education and sustainable energy bills that have benefited my district and all California residents.
Sometimes legislation is complex and controversial. It involves compromise, team-building, standing your ground, and, often, vigorous debate. Sometimes, however, the most important bills can also be the most simple.
I authored AB 1995, a bill that allows homeless college students who are enrolled in coursework, have paid tuition fees, and are in good standing with the community college district to shower at community colleges. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support in the Legislature and was recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.
This bill is especially dear to me. The law historically has not allowed a student at a community college to use the shower facilities unless they were enrolled in physical education classes.
Across the nation, 58,000 students are homeless, according to data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). California has the highest rate of homeless youth in the nation and twice the rate of homeless students than the national average. Of course, this number is higher because not all students willingly report that they are homeless due to the attached stigma.
I was once one of them. Nearly 25 years ago, I was a homeless college student, in need of a place to shower. Each homeless student’s story is different. I certainly did not have it as difficult as many others. Still, I know what it is like to be homeless and hungry, in need of a shower, and insecure about going to class and about my future.
When I was 16 years old, my parents had left town. I dropped out of high school and had little money, but I knew pursuing a higher education was key to building a better life.
So I spent every dime I had and purchased a used Volkswagen van. I lived in it and parked at Shoreline Park while I attended Santa Barbara City College. I slept in my vehicle, which could frequently mean interrupted sleep as I was sometimes, always politely, asked to move on.
College is difficult enough even when you have a fully functioning home environment, with amenities many take for granted. Imagine making a decision about whether to attend class based on whether you smelled badly because you hadn’t showered in days. That decision was particularly vexing considering that the college had ample shower facilities available. Not being able to shower increased my sense of being an outsider.
Like most people facing adversity, I tried to figure out a way. I found a cold beach shower or did not shower at all.
Students like me without permanent housing may go without showers, basic hygienic products, and other essential services. Students are less likely to attend class when they do not take showers and feel insecure about their physical appearance. Students who do not have access to showers and secure storage for books and school supplies are at extreme risk of dropping out of school.
My bill attempts to ease some of the pain of being homeless:
• Authorizes any student enrolled in a California Community College that is facing a financial or housing crisis the opportunity to shower in the locker room facilities maintained by that college without the requirement of enrollment in a physical education (PE) course or athletic department program.
• Requires that students be enrolled in coursework, pay enrollment fees, and be in good standing with the community college district.
• Aligns the use of the shower facilities for homeless students with the campus’ gym operating hours, and only for two hours per weekday.
I believe that AB 1995 greatly increases the likelihood that a student will be successful in college. I was homeless for nearly a year before I transferred to UC Berkeley. I was fortunate enough to endure through that challenging period, but there are many students who aren’t able to survive the perils of homelessness. This new law helps them overcome at least one barrier and will empower them to attend classes with more confidence.