Host Homes Needed For Homeless Westside Students

By Sue Pascoe

One out of every five community college students, and one out of every ten college students are homeless— and these are students at UCLA, Santa Monica College and West L.A. College.

But don’t they have housing when they register? How does this happen? Those were questions asked Palisadian Ellen Sloan when she spoke to the Palisades Rotary Club on March 1.

Sloan, who created a social enterprise, SoCapTech, to develop technology solutions for nonprofits, spoke about “Heather,” who grew up in a gang-laden area north of Sacramento.

Ellen Sloan

The young woman got a full scholarship to UCLA, but the school mailed part of her financial aid to her mother. When Heather arrived at her dorm room to check in, there was an “eviction” notice on the door, saying the room fee had not been paid.

Heather was now homeless. According to Sloan, she joined other homeless students who sleep in the student centers, libraries and cars. These students shower at the school gym facilities while they try to keep up with their studies.

Santa Monica Canyon resident George Wolfberg, who works out early at UCLA several mornings a week, says he sees kids sleeping in the bleachers around the track.

Sloan, after hearing about Heather’s plight, offered her a room at her house until housing was worked out—a process that took about three months.

About eight years ago, Sloan, who graduated from Occidental College with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s degree in business from USC, thought “Why can’t these students stay in a room [in the Palisades] with empty-nesters?”

That thought has now been formalized into a pilot program: Host Homes Project. Sloan, a CPA and Certified Financial Planner, has worked for more than 20 years in finance, investments and philanthropic services with Bank of America, U.S. Trust, City National Bank, and Price Waterhouse Coopers. 

She told the rotarians that if college students could live with people whose children have moved out, this would provide much-needed shelter, especially in a city that has a shortage of student housing.

“There are more graduate students that are housing-insecure than ever,” Sloan said.

The Host Homes Project will offer residents $500 a month to take a student into their home, with the funds coming from donors and grants. “These are people [students] who just need a little help,” Sloan said. Some of those attending school are foster youth and “have nowhere to go during school vacations,” said Sloan, who noted that her mom was able to age in place because she had someone staying in her house. “It’s like a multi-generational effort—like having a grandchild staying with you.”

Sloan pointed out it could be particularly helpful for parents who no longer live near their elderly parents in Los Angeles. “There would be someone in the house, so the family would have a contact person,” she said. A student staying with an elderly person would be there at night, could help with household tasks and could run errands for their “roommate.”

Once launched, Host Homes would do fingerprinting and background checks through a service provider, such as Safe Place for Youth, Sloan said. “An agreement would be drawn up regarding parking, visitors, hours— almost like an Airbnb-type of platform.”

The service provider would be retained or funded by grants and would provide recruiting, interviewing, screening, training and program management.

Sloan, who teaches a graduate course in social entrepreneurship at Pepperdine University, said that host homes for college students is being done in other areas of the country. “We’re not creating something new, we’re just bringing it to L.A.”

Sloan has lived in Pacific Palisades for 21 years and has two daughters: one attends West L.A. College and the other is at USC. In the spring quarter of 2017, the family had another student stay at their home.

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