Danielle Muñoz, right, pictured with fellow CARES case manager Jessica Thomas, says the new Rapid Rehousing Program will provide a "safe oasis" for homeless students during a "wild and volatile time." (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Dixie Reid
As many as 50 homeless students can be off the streets and living in safe, affordable housing, thanks to a new, state-funded partnership among Sacramento State, the CSU and two local social-service agencies.
The new $2.61 million College-Focused Rapid Rehousing Program (RRH) gets homeless students into a stable living environment that is guaranteed for nine months and gives them the tools to move on to regular community housing.
“Now is such a critical time to provide more support for students who are facing housing instability or homelessness,” said Susanna Curry, assistant professor of Social Work and an advisor to Sac State’s RRH program. She said students who struggle to make rent every month sometimes are forced to couch-surf or sleep in their cars, or they might not have a parent to live with or someone who can loan them rent money.
“We’ve seen these challenges increase with the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic crisis,” she said. “We know that these experiences can impact students’ overall well-being and academic outcomes.”
The RRH model puts students into housing quickly, offers short-term rental assistance, and provides case management that can help students learn skills and make adjustments that can help them remain stably housed beyond the program, Curry said.
Naomi Dotson, an Environmental Sciences major and former foster youth, said she will apply for RRH. She has been living in a Sac State residence hall on an Emergency Housing Grant since leaving a relationship last spring.
“I think that students need to be reminded that everyone goes through something, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on your education,” Dotson said. “Anytime I feel that my education is being threatened, I fight three times as hard for it.”
RRH rents range from $400 to no more than $500 a month for each nine-month lease, well below the region’s going rate, and include utilities and Wi-Fi.
To further help participating students, $200 of each participant’s monthly rent will be placed in a savings account. By the end of the lease, each student will have $1,800 to help them get into their own apartment.
Sac State is one of seven CSU campuses to launch RRH this fall using money set aside in the 2019-20 state budget for the program. Administered by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, the Sac State partnership – which includes local agencies Lutheran Social Services and Sacramento Self-Help Housing – will receive $870,000 annually for three years to run the program.
Sac State receives $160,000 annually to cover administrative costs and hire a full-time coordinator. The remaining $710,000 is split between Lutheran Social Services and Sacramento Self-Help Housing, which have secured student housing near the University. Each agency can offer housing to 25 students for nine months.
To be eligible for the housing program, students must be enrolled at Sacramento State, carry at least six units and have a GPA of 2.0 or better. Case-by-case exceptions may be made for students with a lower GPA.
Applicants will have to undergo a background check, but there is no need to have a co-signer, which eliminates a barrier many students face.
Applications can be made online with the University’s Crisis Assistance and Resource Education Support (CARES) Office, which will refer students to the housing agencies.
“Students can find a safe oasis and hope during a wild and volatile time,” said CARES Case Manager Danielle Muñoz. “While they’re working things out, they can continue going to school and maintain their enrollment, because now they have the security of a roof over their head.”
As the new academic year got underway this week, two students moved into RRH housing. Muñoz said relationships developed between the agencies and landlords and property managers will be important factors in the program’s success.
Lutheran Social Services, which has relationships with landlords in several apartment complexes, specifically serves students 18 to 24 years old. The agency’s case managers will help the students look for an apartment and offer assistance with the application and move-in process.
Once a student is settled, a case manager provides other needed support.
Sacramento Self-Help Housing works primarily with students 25 and older. The agency has four houses near Sacramento State and offers housing for students regardless of their legal, rental, or credit history. Case managers will work with students to rehabilitate bad credit and help them move into long-term housing.
“We hope that by participating in this program, students can rehabilitate their housing circumstances and be able to independently find housing for themselves in the future,” Muñoz said.