Illustration by Manne Green

At 3 a.m., most people expect to be fast asleep. But the middle of the night has a different meaning to UC Santa Cruz students who live in their vehicles. 

In the middle of the night, students are often jolted awake by loud banging and bright lights beaming through their vehicle windows to meet their tired eyes. Fear fills these students as police threaten to tow their vehicles and order them to exit the parking lot. 

“There’s this fear of just going to sleep,” said John Fernandez, a houseless fourth-year. “I put off falling asleep because one of my biggest fears is being towed while in my van.”

Fall of 2018, Fernandez and other students living in their vehicles formed the Snail Movement. The name alludes to students’ identification as slugs who carry their shelter with them. Its motivation is to combat the effects the Santa Cruz housing crisis has on students. The movement’s main goal is an on-campus safe parking program.

“The university needs to take responsibility for a population of their students that are houseless,” Fernandez said. “It affects their academic performance and their psychological state, and the university refuses to acknowledge us.”

The university cites safety and legal issues in its refusal to instate a policy allowing students to live in their cars on campus. UCSC Police Department Chief Oweis said when police knock on student’s cars, their primary reason is to make sure they are safe. He also said they cannot tow vehicles without additional cause such as a traffic hazard or leaking hazardous fluid.

The Snail Movement presented its proposals to Dean of Students, Garrett Naiman, in December. Naiman then relayed the proposals to Executive Vice Chancellor Marlene Tromp, the office of Campus Counsel and Risk and Safety Services. 

“[The UCSC administration] made it clear that risk, safety, costs and policy reasons prohibited the university from being able to support this particular solution,” Naiman said in an email to the Snail Movement. “They did not go into detailed specifics, but they expressed that these were the reasons.”

On Feb. 1, the Snail Movement sent a formal call to action to administrators and posted it on social media. 

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the Snail Movement took its issue to local government, presenting policy demands at the Feb. 12 City Council meeting.

A second-year UCSC student, who wished to remain anonymous, addressed City Council during the public comment period. They spoke of houseless students’ interactions with campus police. They recalled police shaking their van and threatening to tow their vehicle if they did not exit. 

“We need your help,” the student said. “We shouldn’t have to go out and sleep in the city. The university has a place for us. It’s quiet, it’s safe, it’s monitored. There’s no reason for this.”

After the meeting, council member Drew Glover offered to assist the Snail Movement with the campus administration. The two parties are still determining what their partnership will look like, but it could include legal counsel. 

Members of the Snail Movement are encouraging the city and campus to work together in finding a solution to this problem.

“We are simply asking the university to let us sleep in our vehicles without fear, harassment, and abuse,” according to the Snail Movement’s two-page statement. “We just want sleep.”

John Fernandez said at minimum they want the university to establish non-enforcement of campus camping laws, but are pushing for basic needs as well. The Snail Movement is asking for access to bathrooms, food prep areas and a safe place to gather and build their community. 

Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), an organization of students in support of UC service worker union AFSCME Local 3299, also supports the Snail Movement. Since WSSC has a significant following and a history of contesting UCSC policies, its support helps spread the Snail Movement’s call to action.

“We are in solidarity with the Snail Movement because we know what it feels like to have police and [the administration] against us,” said WSSC core member Alyssa Serrano. “At strikes we have received little to no support from administration and the UCPD are always present, making us feel unsafe. Folks from the Snail Movement are going through the same thing and we are happy they reached out to us.” 

Other organizations throughout the community have offered help to houseless students. The Association of Faith Communities launched a Safe Space Parking Program students can apply to. The Snail Movement welcomes outside support but ultimately feels UCSC is responsible for addressing houseless students’ needs. 

Members of the Snail Movement feel the university is keeping this issue out of the public eye. 

“We take pride in our pursuit of education,” Fernandez said. “There’s a lot of shame that’s imposed on us, but inherently we’re proud. We’re pursuing education. We’re doing the best we can, and at the end of the day, that should be respected by everyone and especially by the  university.”

CORRECTION: In the Feb. 21 issue, in the story “Snail Movement Continues the Fight for Basic Needs,” City on a Hill Press misstated the date the Snail Movement was established. It was established in fall quarter of this year. The story also refers to a statement the movement released. That statement is outdated and has been replaced with a petition which can be found here: 

This article has been slightly modified from the original version.