Viking Closet

Showing off the Viking Closet at Long Beach City College are some members of the John Fylpaa Leadership Institute (from left), Maria Gonzalez, Taylor Karp, Jose Meza, Yolanda Alcala-Herrer and Kristofr Clement.

Jose Meza was a drifter.

Before he enrolled at Long Beach City College, Meza was basically homeless — he stayed with family and friends in San Diego — because he didn’t have a permanent address.

“It was very challenging, even though I thankfully never had to resort to sleeping on the streets or in a shelter,” the chemistry major said.

He’s not alone in that regard. Whether living in cars, on couches or outside, homelessness is a persistent problem across California’s 114 community college campuses. The Hope Center, a research and policy institute, found that 19% of California’s 2.1 million community college students have been homeless during the past year. The survey is the most comprehensive yet done on food and housing insecurity in the state’s community colleges and included more than 40,000 students across 57 campuses.

The second-year student’s living situation has improved — he has been living in Long Beach for three years — and he is now in a leadership program at LBCC called the John Fylpaa Leadership Institute (JFLI).

“The goal of the program is to promote civic engagement and foster the development of leaders who want to create positive changes in their community,” Meza said.

Previous leadership groups addressed mental health, accessibility and poverty. But the spring 2019 group is focusing on providing support to students experiencing housing and resources insecurity by creating a Viking Closet. Items in the closet will include gently-used clothes, toiletries and hygiene products, clothing, blankets and school supplies.

To help raise money for their cause, JFLI is hosting a Star Wars-themed 5K run-walk on Saturday at Veterans Stadium, 5000 E. Lew Davis St. The run starts at 10 a.m. Cost is $10 per person and $5 for students with ID. All proceeds go to funding the closet.

Meza said the group has been gathering donations and has obtained some funding from student government. Still, the initiative is facing challenges in keeping the closet sustainable.

“We heard that other community colleges in the area have a similar set-up,” Meza said. “We have several students currently on our campus facing such challenges. We are hoping that Goodwill and the Salvation Army can provide essential items to students in need and hope that will promote student persistence, support, and success.”

Registration for the run and walk is at bit.ly/lbccjfli5k.

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