One in five students attending community colleges in California are homeless. Nonprofit organization Jovenes, Inc. is helping these homeless students succeed.
Brianna Rodriguez, 24, was homeless for six months while she was a student at East Los Angeles College. She was in high school when her single mother lost her job and the home they shared. She and her family had to go their separate ways to survive. Rodriguez spent many nights secretly parked on campus.
"I was sleeping in my car," she said. "That was really tough, that was really, really tough to say the least. I mean talk about food insecurity, I didn't know where to study, my sleep was broken, it was cold."
Jose Jimenez, 21, another East Los Angeles College student, says he found himself homeless after gangs in his neighborhood turned him onto drugs.
"I got introduced to crystal meth. I got really lost in that," Jimenez said.
His parents kicked him out. He was addicted for 5 years. When he finally cleaned up and returned home, he was shot by a gang member and spent two months in the hospital. That's when he realized he'd never be safe in his neighborhood.
Both Rodriguez and Jimenez said it was a school counselor who helped them find their way. The counselors told them both about Jovenes, Inc.
"Jovenes gave me a safe place to stay, to rest my head, a place to focus on school and my own priorities," Jimenez said.
Rodriguez and Jimenez are among the roughly 140 young adults recovering from homelessness at Jovenes, Inc. every year.
The nonprofit provides long-term housing and other essential services to a growing number of homeless students in Los Angeles. Jovenes works closely with community colleges to help students.
"We try to offer everything it takes to get homeless youth off the streets and into stable housing, so we use housing as a tool to really help move their lives forward," said Eric Hubbard, the director of development at Jovenes, Inc.
Last week, community college district officials gathered to address the homelessness crisis and find solutions - among them was the possibility of providing on-campus housing.
"When students don't have a place to live, it's very difficult for them complete their education," said East L.A. College President Marvin Martinez.
Meantime, Jovenes, Inc. hopes to get the word out about student homelessness and that the public will help donate to their cause. Rodriguez, who is now an employee at Jovenes, knows firsthand the good the organization does.
"Jovenes brought my family together. I think that was the most important thing, that they brought us together. That definitely, it was awesome," she said.