A group of undergraduate students at UCLA opened a shelter in Santa Monica to combat homelessness among their peers.
Since its opening in October, students have been running the two-room shelter inside Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. It consists of nine beds, a lounge and toiletries along with a breakfast and dinner area. Overnight security is provided each day by a student manager.
The shelter, which is open to students from Santa Monica College and UCLA, is capable of providing room to nine people. Students in need are chosen after filing an application describing their needs.
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"We do like to choose residents who are in the most dire circumstances," said Imesh Smarakoon, an undergraduate student at UCLA, who helps run the shelter.
Students call it the Bruin Shelter, which is also the name of the non-profit organization they started to help fund the shelter. It the only one of its kind in the West Coast, with Harvard students operating a similar shelter in Massachusetts.
"We really want to start a discussion, we really want to get everyone else thinking about how can we help these students," Samarakoon said.
The Santa Monica College Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Tuitasi said the shelter is "very innovative as far as trying to address the issue." He added that according to campus data there are about 130 students on his campus who are homeless or don't have the money to pay for rent and the number is likely higher because many others don’t report their living arrangements.
NBC4's Marina Peña contributed to this report.