Top California Teachers' Union Wants Homeless People To Sleep in Its Public School Parking Lots

Proposal comes as Fresno's public school teachers barrel toward a strike that could close classrooms

A homeless encampment near a Target store in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
October 5, 2023

One of California's largest teachers' unions wants to open up its public school parking lots to the homeless, a priority the union is pushing as it barrels toward a strike that could shut down school just weeks after students returned to the classroom.

The Fresno Teachers Association laid out the policy in a contract proposal, which calls to "open high school parking lots to homeless families to park their car." The union acknowledges the move would require "paid security" at a cost of at least $500,000, one of many expensive proposals union president Manuel Bonilla is pursuing in an attempt to address what he calls "societal things." The Fresno Unified School District has thus far balked at those demands, and the union is expected to authorize a strike in the coming weeks as a result.

The union's effort to turn its parking lots into homeless safe havens reflects a broader push from teachers' unions across the country to use their bargaining power to actualize left-wing priorities. In nearby Oakland, for example, unionized teachers in May shut down the city's public schools for two weeks after demanding reparations for black students in their contract proposal. Unionized teachers in Portland, Oregon, similarly threatened to strike if their district refused to provide subsidized housing for poor students.

While some public districts have caved to those demands—Oakland Unified School District agreed to provide housing assistance for homeless students in order to end the May strike—Fresno Unified School District has not budged. The district's superintendent, Robert Nelson, last week questioned the homeless parking lot proposal, arguing that it isn't the district's "area of expertise." Thousands of teachers are thus on track to strike following a union vote on October 18, not long after students returned to school in August.

Such a shutdown would undoubtedly add to the learning loss seen during the coronavirus pandemic, which in California kept many public school students out of the classroom for the majority of the 2020-21 school year. The Fresno Unified school board hopes to avoid that outcome thanks to a resolution it passed in late September, which allows the district to employ emergency substitute teachers.

"If we're unable to reach an agreement, we are well-prepared and will ensure that our schools stay open, safe, and full of learning," Fresno Unified School District spokeswoman Nikki Henry told the Washington Free Beacon, adding that students "cannot afford another school closure after the pandemic."

The Fresno Teachers Association did not return a request for comment. In addition to its proposal to allow homeless families to access its parking lots, the union is pushing for free laundry services for district families, 24-hour access to mental health services, and free yoga and meditation classes on weekends.

The last collective bargaining agreement between the union and its district ended on June 30, but negotiations have been ongoing since November 2022. In May, the Fresno Teachers Association vowed to strike if an agreement was not met by September 29. Bonilla during a recent radio appearance echoed that threat, saying the district is "really pushing us towards that."

The district, by contrast, points to an offer it extended to the union that would increase the average teacher salary in the district to roughly $100,000. Other union proposals, Nelson argued last month, could threaten the district's financial future.

"I’m not going to make any decisions that I think would put the district in long-term fiscal danger," he said.