This article was produced in collaboration with KCET’s City Rising series, a multimedia documentary program that traces gentrification and displacement through a lens of historical discriminatory laws and practices. Fearing the loss of their community’s soul, residents across California are gathering into a movement. Watch the documentary, which highlights Long Beach neighborhoods and leaders, here.
Over the past six years, the average rent in Long Beach has risen by an alarming 55 percent, from $1,392 to $2,164. This can be contributed to gentrification since the vacancy rate in Long Beach is a measly 2 percent.
“Long Beach is the largest community of renters on the West Coast without any form of rent control,” said Shanna Llewellyn, a moving specialist with AIM Living Services, which helps low-income and disabled individuals with housing. “The high population and old buildings, high poverty and low-income is a perfect base for gentrification.”
Llewellyn says she has a difficult time finding housing for her clients because “there’s nothing there.”
One of the constituencies affected severely by gentrification are college students who are just starting out.
Rashida Crutchfield, an Assistant Professor of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach, is currently conducting a study on CSU student homelessness that will be released in January.
“They’re working several jobs in order to make ends meet in addition to going to school,” said Crutchfield. “They come in hoping that financial aid will cover everything and they find out it will not.”
A report Crutchfield helped write in 2015 commissioned by California State University Chancellor Tim White shows that about 9 percent of students within the CSU System are homeless while a fifth of them are food insecure. Over 56,000 students nationally and about 10,000 in California alone identified as homeless on their 2013-2014 FASFA. However, those numbers might be larger given that many students who are homeless don’t want to admit to being so.
“There are students who won’t fill out the FASFA because they don’t see themselves as homeless or they don’t want to be identified that way,” said Crutchfield. “I’ve talked to students who are living in their cars who say ‘I’m not homeless because my car is my home.’”
Crutchfield says one of the biggest misperceptions people have about student homelessness is that it’s an issue of mishandling money.
“That is absolutely not the case,” said Crutchfield. “I can be an expert in budgeting, but if I don’t have any money I can’t budget.”
The professor says that homelessness can have severe psychological effects on students.
“A student who has to think about where they’re going to sleep tomorrow has a really hard time focusing on their educational goals,” said Crutchfield. “If you’re sleeping on someone’s couch and you don’t know if you can sleep there tomorrow it can be extremely stressful.”
While she touts CSULB as a model for helping students who are homeless, Liz Waite, a student at CSULB who herself is homeless, says the administration doesn’t go far enough in helping students like herself.
“I came very close to dropping out on account of extreme financial aid difficulties,” said Waite. “Years of debt does not justify what the school offers, two weeks in a bed, twelve meals and $500.”
Waite says she is working with student organizations in order to start a student culture that embraces and supports students who are going through homelessness.
“I want CSULB to lead on how homeless students are treated and considered,” said Waite.
While Crutchfield also sees CSULB as a model for student homelessness, she cites disinvestment from the state as an issue.
“If we had all the resources in the world, we could do anything for these students,” said Crutchfield.