Solving the Crisis of College Student Homelessness


What It's Like To Be A Homeless College Student

A Crisis On Campus

In 2015, Jovenes began to notice a relatively unidentified and underserved population: college students experiencing homelessness. Nearly 1 in 5 of LA’s County community college students and 10% of Cal State students experiences homelessness, posing challenges to both entering college as well as maintaining enrollment. Certain subpopulations are especially at risk of not graduating. While nearly half of California’s former foster youth enroll in community college, less than 10% achieve graduation.

Picture this: a student excelling at football practice, and then going and sleeping in a park at night, stressed out and studying on an empty stomach, showering in the school gym, prioritizing education over their basic needs, all in hope of a better future. 

As Jovenes developed and grew as an agency, we wanted to be able to inspire our youth to go back to school and embark on their career paths. When we approached various local community colleges, we learned the full scope of the problem – there were literally hundreds of homeless youth on every campus that needed our help. To respond to this crisis, Jovenes launched the College Success Initiative in 2016 to address student homelessness on college campuses throughout LA County.

These students are investing in their future through education. Homelessness should never prevent a student from succeeding in school.

Our Peer Navigators work with our college partners to meet homeless students on campus (or virtually) and connect them with the housing support that fits their needs.

The College Success Initiative

Jovenes’ College Success Initiative combines traditional and academic case management in order to support students as they live in stable housing options tailored to their needs. By taking away the burden of housing costs, our students are able to focus on academic achievement. We provide rental subsidies (and other housing supports) to homeless students so they can move into permanent & stable housing, focus on their education, and graduate. 

Our College Success Initiative continues to grow, and the schools we partner with now include six colleges and universities throughout the region: 

  • East LA College
  • Cerritos College
  • Rio Hondo College
  • Cal Poly Pomona
  • Long Beach City College
  • Cal State Long Beach
  • Mt. San Antonio College
  • LA Southwest College
  • LA City College
  • LA Trade Tech

Peer Navigators (formerly homeless community college students) are placed on campus in order to provide outreach to homeless students, assess them for their housing needs through LA’s Coordinated Entry System, and help move them into housing by providing a rental subsidy that helps them afford apartments near their school.

Since launching the College Success Initiative in 2016, we have housed 300 students who were experiencing homelessness, and 68% of our students have either graduated/transferred from college, or are still currently enrolled and pursuing their goals.

A Model for Policy Change

In 2019, California passed Assembly Bill 74, a $19 million dollar initiative to address homelessness among college students. Jovenes’ College Success Initiative served as the foundational model for AB74 legislation, which has resulted in our approach being replicated throughout the State of California. In the summer of 2020, Jovenes was awarded AB74 funds to work with four colleges, and this funding will allow us to serve up to 170 homeless students annually. By meeting youth where they are at through our College Success Initiative, Jovenes will be able to change lives by providing the significant, long-term investment each youth needs. 


Meet Deborah Franza, a first-generation college student, first-generation Italian immigrant and former foster youth from our College Success Initiative.

“I wanted to end the cycle of poverty in my family [but] I became housing insecure and became uncertain whether a higher education was truly accessible for me. However, because Jovenes stepped in early and helped support me financially and psychologically, I was able to learn the skills that made me a successful long-term student and transfer to UCI as an applied physics major!” 

How It Works

Jovenes’ College Success Initiative has worked to help students graduate, despite the challenges posed by homelessness. Our program works to meet students on campus and provide them with rental subsidies that help them move into apartments (or other stable housing opportunities) near their campus.

College-Focused Housing Options

Jovenes has developed college-focused housing options in order to take away the burden of housing costs so that homeless students are able to focus on academic achievement. Through the College Success Initiative, Jovenes provides three forms of housing:

  • College-Focused Bridge Housing: Jovenes is master-leasing apartments near our local community college campuses to provide temporary safe housing that will allow students to become stable while they work with our case managers to connect with permanent housing options within our Continuum of Care
  • College-Focused Rapid Rehousing: Typically, rapid rehousing is a rental subsidy designed to be a time-limited intervention that moves youth into permanent housing and provides them with the time it takes to gain employment, begin saving, and gradually take on the full cost of the lease. For college, students, Jovenes modified this intervention by extending its duration of rental assistance to match student’s time in the school.
  • Dormitory Style College Housing: By developing a closer partnership with community colleges and joint fundraising plan, we seek to secure real estate assets in proximity to college campuses and create dormitory that are managed in partnership between Jovenes and the College Student Service Department.

Additionally, Jovenes operates a host home program. Through this, Jovenes is reaching out to local homeowners who have a spare bedroom in their houses and who are willing to welcome a student into their home. Under this arrangement, the student will stay in these houses for six months or less, while a more suitable long-term solution can be developed. Hosts and students will undergo a matching process to determine fit, and will both be supported by Jovenes Staff.

Students who are in the College Success Initiative will achieve:

  • AA Degree
  • Professional Certification
  • Transfer to a four year college
  • Increased lifetime earnings
  • Meaningful relationships with Jovenes’ staff for continual support for years to come

Innovative Housing Solutions

Jovenes is constantly creating new solutions for homeless students and providing a template for other schools and partnerships to follow. Recently, in partnership with Cerritos College, Jovenes has opened a new type of housing facility. Called The Village, it is California’s first community college housing project exclusively for homeless students. Cerritos College purchased the property, and Jovenes is master leasing it. Jovenes provides day-to-day management, resident selection, on-site supervision, case management, and property maintenance. Additionally, we are also offering services to help students complete their educational goals. Jovenes receives referrals from Cerritos College and assesses students for eligibility, while providing access to other housing options when the units are at capacity.

There are two types of living arrangements available to students in The Village: bridge housing and room rentals. Within the bridge housing units, twelve students will share two houses, with two to three students per bedroom, and there is no rent or cost for housing or food. Through room rentals, up to fourteen students will share four townhomes, and each students will have their own bedroom (or share a large master bedroom) and pay an affordable rent. Jovenes is able to subsidize their rent through our college-focused rapid rehousing program. All students receive case management and supportive services. The goal is for students to stay in these houses until they graduate and transition out, or until they are able to move into their own apartments. The Village can house up to 28 students between the ages of 18-25 throughout the property at a time.

Read more about The Village here.

Inside Higher Ed: A Place to Call Home – and to Study

Meet our 2020 College Success Initiative Graduates!

Congratulations to our graduates as they embark on their new journeys!

Jovenes is so proud of all of our students and grateful for their resiliency, perseverance and courage in sharing their stories. We are excited to continue to support them on their journey and look forward to celebrating all of their accomplishments.

Kyshawna’s Story

“I was placed into the foster system when I lost both of my parents. At the age of 19, I was told by my grandma that I had to leave because she stopped receiving checks. I had nowhere to go so began couch surfing. I work as a public speaker and was able to save money to buy a car. I lived out of my car for five months until my uncle allowed me to stay with him. When the landlord kicked me out, I was forced to once again live out of my car.

At this time, I was going to school at Citrus College while working in order to make ends meet and survive. The instability in my life caused me to start failing all of my classes. My counselor recognized I was struggling and referred me to Jovenes’ College Success Initiative. Once I found Jovenes, I was enrolled into the program and they helped me find permanent housing. Having their support and housing stability helped me raise my grades and I am now making all A’s. It brings peace to me that I have someone supporting me and helping me out not only financially, but emotionally. Without the College Success Initiative, I would not be where I am at and would not be moving towards my goals because homelessness, while it made me strong and resilient, was holding me back and took a toll on my mental health.  Jovenes did not just help me with housing, but this program has really helped me remain accountable & responsible so I can achieve my goals. They treat me like family and have helped me achieve my greatest accomplishment thus far in my life, overcoming homelessness.”

Jovenes is proud to announce that Kyshawna joined our board in August of 2020. She will help bring the perspective of the youth we serve and provide valuable leadership.

Video by Afflux Films

Partners & Funders

We’d like to thank the partners and funders who are helping Jovenes support homeless students

  • The California Wellness Foundation
  • The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Family Foundation
  • The Roth Family Foundation
  • The Reissa Foundation 
  • The Mayer Foundation
  • The Hezlep Family Foundation
  • The Peter & Candis Doerken Foundation
  • John Burton Associates for Youth
  • Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

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