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Student Housing Crisis Offers Hard Lessons for U.S. Colleges

While undergrads at some U.S. campuses sleep in their cars, struggling schools have a surplus of dorm rooms. 

A UC-Irvine student who is sleeping in his car in 2013. California’s widespread lack of affordable housing has made student homelessness a chronic problem. 

A UC-Irvine student who is sleeping in his car in 2013. California’s widespread lack of affordable housing has made student homelessness a chronic problem. 

Photographer: MediaNews Group/Orange County Re/MediaNews Group RM via Getty Images

Long Beach City College’s new parking structure is more than a place for staff and students to stash their cars: The four-level garage right off Pacific Coast Highway, which opened in 2020, is also serving as an ad-hoc dormitory.  

Underscoring the crushing realities of affordability, the Pacific Coast campus of Long Beach City College started an experimental safe parking program for housing insecure community students, who, bereft of other options, have turned to sleeping in their vehicles. A recent survey found that, out of a student body of roughly 24,000, 3,000 are housing insecure, 1,000 are either homeless or couch surfing, and roughly 70 sleep in their cars. The parking program, which provides overnight security and access to power outlets and nearby restrooms, can accommodate 15.