Homeless for the holidays

COURTESY // Gustavo Vasquez

What encompasses the holiday spirit? Many college students may claim it’s when their professors don’t give them homework over Thanksgiving break. Perhaps it’s mom’s mashed potatoes or grandpa’s homemade eggnog that wouldn’t pass an FDA test. 

Maybe it’s just the atmosphere in one’s childhood home during the holidays, enhanced by the glow of a tree or the smell of snickerdoodle cookies in the oven.

No matter the example, each has one place in common; home. It’s the place most of us draw closer to as the year ends, a place of familiarity and family. 

In the midst of all of these festivities, many may take the benefit of having a home for granted, as many don’t have this place in their lives even during the holiday season.

According to Sonoma County homeless advocates, 3,295 people are homeless in Sonoma County on any given night. This is the size of more than one-third of the students on the Sonoma State University campus.

What’s more, college-age individuals are a large chunk of this homeless population. According to The Press Democrat, a 2009 survey found that Sonoma County was home to 268 young homeless adults. By 2013, the number of homeless young adults in Sonoma County had skyrocketed to 1,128. 

What many don’t realize is that, without a home, certain amenities that we might take for granted everyday aren’t available. Clean water for drinking and laundry is hard to come by. 

Protection from harsh winter weather cannot be found in tents and certainly not on the street.  

Many of us are familiar these days with sprinting to our vehicles and blasting the heater as soon as we get in them in order to deter the sting of low winter temperatures. Most of these homeless youth who resort to living in their cars don’t have that privilege. 

Those who live on the streets are even more sensitive to the impact of rain, which California is expected to see a lot more of in the next couple of months.

The majority of college students at Sonoma State University have the privilege of having a home. Whether the rent is paid by parents, financial aid (not all students have these resources) or by themselves, having a place to rest at the end of the day is a crucial part of living a stable life, especially in college. 

No student who has the ambition to further educate themselves should have to worry about having a place to sleep. What leads to this epidemic of homelessness, especially in the younger generation?

It’s not laziness. It’s the lack of affordable housing in Sonoma County. 

On rent.com, seven Rohnert Park apartment complexes were listed. After taking the lowest advertised monthly price of each one bedroom apartment at these complexes, the STAR discovered that the average monthly rent in the area was about $1,468. 

If a full-time student were to work 20 hours per week earning minimum wage, they would earn roughly $720 a month. This excludes the deduction of income tax. 

This income is obviously not even close to enough to cover rent. Toss in a monthly food bill, utilities, tuition and school supplies, this average hypothetical student would drown in expenses and not be able to afford rent in this area. 

This student wouldn’t even be able to afford the monthly rent of a double room in Sauvignon on campus, which is roughly $1,100 per month and is closed during certain parts of the holiday season. It’s no wonder why youth homelessness is so common in Sonoma County when affordable housing is extremely hard to come by. 

There are some programs in the area, such as VOICES in Santa Rosa that aims to help homeless youth, particularly those who come out of foster care and may not have family financial support. VOICES provides information on where to find a place to sleep for the night, among other services. 

Young adults between the ages 18 and 24 are in a transitional part of life, where they must set up a stable future for themselves through education and work. Sonoma State helps in this process; so why must we make it so hard for these people to live here?

 Last week, the Committee on the Shelterless in Petaluma made a public appeal for 450 turkeys to feed the homeless this Thanksgiving. They are asking people to buy a frozen turkey, 20 pounds or less, and bring it to the Mary Isaak Center at 900 Hopper St. between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. by this Friday.

This holiday, lend a hand to help the homeless. Many programs throughout the county are looking for volunteers and donations. 

Other homeless programs are seeking similar help. Find a way to contribute this holiday. You may be helping someone who hopes to be a student like yourself.