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Assuming Responsibility: USC Should Start a Homeless Shelter

OBLIGATIONS OF PRIVILEGE-This week, the Daily Trojan published its supplement issue, “It Takes a Village: USC and the Community,” in which we explored more carefully the issue of gentrification in the local community, the cost of living near campus and the rise of the University Village. We recognized that, as students at USC, our experiences are shaped not just by members of the University but by the surrounding community as well. However, it would be impossible to address USC’s relations with locals without mentioning crucial members of our community — the homeless population. 

Last year, a report from the Economic Roundtable stated that each month 13,000 Angelenos become homeless, in large part due to the effects of rising housing prices and costs of living. This finding has even prompted Mayor Eric Garcetti to declare a state of emergency in a quest to end the epidemic. 

These concerns should not be separate from the USC’s responsibilities. Given the University’s unique position within the city, it should adopt a greater role in aiding the homeless population. The University should start by contributing financially to local homeless shelters, or by starting one of its own. 

Whether we are aware of it or not, people of the transient community are intertwined with our daily lives. They travel on campus before the gates are drawn at night and off campus to the commercial food establishments students frequent. A short walk from campus, tents — that many consider shelter — line sidewalks along familiar streets. 

The University does provide some support to local community members. One academic enrichment program called the Neighborhood Academic Initiative prepares local students for higher education enrollment. The campus organization ‘Swipes Out Hunger,’ donates leftover students’ dining dollars to the local homeless population at the end of the semester. And in February, the Undergraduate Student Government hosted its first-ever Community Block Party which connected students and local community members. But the University has not created an initiative to specifically address the homelessness crisis which plagues South Central Los Angeles. 

Policy experts have, again and again, pointed to the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles as a key player in the city’s chronic homelessness. Los Angeles simply doesn’t have enough development, and skyrocketing demands for housing have led to excessive costs of renting or owning homes. As previously reported in the Daily Trojan supplement Wednesday, the ZIP code 90007 which surrounds USC, was the second-most expensive ZIP code for rentals in the entire county. By establishing a homeless shelter, USC would be providing much-needed relief for the thousands of Los Angeles homeless people who find themselves in circumstances in which living is simply impossible. 

Instead of giving the homeless needed support, the University’s actions are contributing to part of the problem. Construction has increased property values, displacing local residents and contributing to rising rents. And for all the rhetoric that the University uses in support of its local community, so many of its actions indicate to community members that they are unwelcome. For one, the gates that surround the University Park Campus are not just ugly urban design — they are exclusionary to our community members. They are a visual symbol that, when 9 p.m. comes around, the University doesn’t want those from the community around. 

It’s time for the University to turn this image around, and prove to the community — including the homeless — that it is also part of our Trojan Family. 

USC wouldn’t be the first top university to establish its own homeless shelter. Called the Y2Y Harvard Square, Harvard University’s student-run homeless shelter offers advocacy, outreach and other service programs to the local homeless population. During the winter months, it serves men and women in the local Cambridge community. If the University supported it financially, a similar operation in South Central Los Angeles could have considerable impact on the local community. 

With a nearly $5 billion endowment and in its role as a premiere research university, USC has unmatched economic and social resources, some of which it owes to the surrounding community. It should use this opportunity to redefine what it means to be a socially responsible institution. 

(Lily Vaughan is a USC freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs on Fridays. This piece is was first posted by the Spring 2016 Editorial Board of the Daily Trojan.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.