Homeless UC Berkeley Student Takes Care of His Whole Family

Ismael Chamu. (Facebook)

Ismael Chamu refuses to let an inhumane housing system keep him from his dreams of a better life for his parents, his siblings, his future partner and himself.

“Developers and renters just exponentially raise the rent,” the 21-year-old son of a Mexican migrant worker tells the Los Angeles Times, “making living, being able to go to bed at night, a privilege instead of a right.”

After his family was evicted from their home as rental costs rose in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, the student and his three siblings moved to a small trailer in Hayward, south of Oakland. He spends most of his time and his student loans on helping his family.

Now in his final year at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the country’s elite universities, Chamu cares for his family while striving to get an education he hopes will someday allow him to have a house with bedrooms and a functioning sewage system. But Hayward has made it illegal to live in residential trailers, forcing Chamu to search desperately for alternative housing for his family.

And while Chamu’s story is stunning, he’s not alone in his struggles.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Financial aid covers tuition for the state’s growing number of low-income students, but doesn’t usually cover the full cost of housing. Many UC campuses are in some of the priciest real-estate markets.

A recent University of California study estimated that 13,000 of the system’s 260,000 students have struggled with unstable housing. That guess comes from two 2016 surveys, in which 5% of the nearly 70,000 students who responded said they had couch-surfed, lived on the street or found temporary shelter in vehicles, motels or campgrounds at some point since they had enrolled.

[California State University] estimates about 41,000 students have unstable housing; the Los Angeles Community College District, about 44,000.

UC President Janet Napolitano has a plan to build 14,000 affordable beds by 2020 and has given each of the system’s nine undergraduate campuses $3 million to help them meet housing needs. UC and Cal State campuses are trying to reach out to students with expanded food pantries, meal-sharing plans, campus gardens and emergency loans.

But most everyone agrees that the efforts are not nearly enough.

As for Chamu, he recently posted an update to his living situation on his Facebook account:

Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Assistant Editor and Poetry Editor
Natasha Hakimi Zapata holds a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Boston University and both a B.A. in Spanish and a B.A. in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of California, Los…
Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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