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Bridging the Gap: Los Angeles Room & Board Initiative Supports College Student Housing Needs

L.A. Nonprofit Housing Program Aims To Combat College Student Homelessness


Mar. 4 2024, Published 1:00 p.m. ET

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As the doors of the Los Angeles Room and Board’s newest housing project opened earlier this year, the doors for a path toward academic success also opened for the 40 college students moving in.

The new facility named Durhamis provides students experiencing homelessness with nutritious meals and cooking classes, tutoring, academic coaching, career development, and, most importantly, a stable roof over their heads. This new expansion is aiding in furthering the organization’s mission to provide affordable transitional housing designed to end homelessness and promote the completion of their college degree programs.

“It’s hard to make it in L.A., but we are doing what we can to support them,” Sam Prater told NBC 4 News during the opening of the residential living and learning community.

However, this new lifeline comes at a crucial time as homelessness rates continue to become a problem throughout the country. The housing and affordability crisis is now threatening many college students in California.

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Statewide statistics show nearly 5% of the University of California students, 10% of California State University students, and 20% of California community college students have reported being homeless or have insecure housing throughout their time at their respective schools, making the solutions of the Los Angeles Room and Board more critical than ever.

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Their unique business model often relies on leasing previously vacant spaces on campus or unoccupied campus adjacent facilities. For instance, the Opportunity House originally served as home for dozens of sorority sisters but turned into a sanctuary for homeless students when Sam Prater, the founder and executive director of the Opportunity House, launched the facility in 2020. Before, the historically vacant property used to serve as a transitional hostel for Japanese-Americans after they were released from internment camps in the mid-1940s. Now, nearly 70 years later, the building continues to remain a haven for all who enter.

“My life has definitely changed because of my dedication and commitment to my own life,” resident Despues Green told NBC 4 News in March. “It created a platform for me to continue to work from and grow.”

A study done in 2022 by the John Burton Advocates for Youth showed a connection between housing insecurity and academic outcomes. Those experiencing homelessness faced an 8 to 12 percent reduction in obtaining a degree or enrolling in school. Those students also found themselves receiving a lower grade point average.

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Before attending Central Michigan University, Prater, a Detroit native and one of 12 children, faced academic hardships such as failing out of high school classes, which led to him earning his GED and enrolling in community college. But, his determination to succeed led him to pursue an education at Central Michigan. Prater was an active student leader and resident assistant who quickly became a vocal advocate for ending homelessness and promoting college completion.

Soon after obtaining his master’s and doctorate degrees, a career switch would lead Prater to be heavily involved in solving the crisis amongst at-risk college students. Prater founded the nonprofit in 2019 with the hopes of creating a safe and supportive environment for community college students. A free temporary stay is offered to the students for a limited time before the offer is sold at a reduced room and board rate.

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With over a decade of experience in higher education and a career centered on housing and residential education, Prater’s passion for fostering success continues to grow. While relying on donations to help assist with programming for educational workshops and mentorships, operations, equipment, and administrative costs, the nonprofit also collaborates with partners in Los Angeles. Some of those partnerships include Shower of Hope, which provides mobile showers and services, and Raise the Barr, an organization dedicated to increasing the economic mobility for single-parent students.

Other donations, partnerships, and sponsorships with organizations such as the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Community College District have helped the growth of the nonprofit. All applicants interested in housing must be 18-24 years old and attend a college or trade school in Los Angeles, but with limited space, spots fill up quickly. Fortunately, with the opening of another facility called the Excelsior House in the East Hollywood neighborhood, more spots will open.

The possibilities are endless for Prater as he strives to combat the student homelessness crisis. In a 2021 interview with his alma mater, Prater said he hopes to expand the program to Detroit, finding the need to help students in all places.

"There are students in need everywhere," Prater said in the interview. "I want to continue building these communities and impacting the lives of these students so they can have an opportunity to succeed like I have."

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