Basic needs are becoming harder and harder to afford, a fact that is especially true for college students amidst the pressure of the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus hit, however, we’ve always been the butt of the joke on who’s the most broke in America, with clichés like ramen noodle dinners and overdrawn bank accounts characterizing the college experience.
But because of this, we’re also known for our resilience, our unmatched penny-pinching tactics and apathy in the face of mounting debt over four years as an undergraduate. But perhaps we’re all laughing at a problem that is much more serious than what we give credit. It’s a lifestyle that puts many at risk of food insecurity and homelessness, something that at least 10% of NC State students experience, according to a recent study by Mary Haskett, an NC State psychology professor.
The study uses the U.S. Housing and Urban Development criteria for homelessness, which includes staying in a shelter, crashing at a friend’s or with relatives (i.e. couch surfing), living in a motel or hotel, sleeping outdoors and other temporary housing situations. Sound familiar? If so, there are resources available for emergencies from Pack Essentials, but they are, unfortunately, very short term. As far as resources that ensure real stability for vulnerable students go, we’re still lacking, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium ending March 31, the time to launch better solutions is now.
The results of Haskett’s study reflect the fact that current solutions aren’t working, stating that, “Most students who might qualify for services did not use them. Even students who took advantage of resources were still vulnerable.” This is proof enough that homeless students need something more than a two to three-night stay in temporary university housing. Of course, there are affordable housing projects in the works for Raleigh residents as of January 2020, but that doesn’t absolve NC State of its responsibility to set its students up for success, especially when we’re paying for it.
NC State’s initiative to promote food and housing security makes suggestions to better support homeless students going forward, like establishing emergency shelters on campus and running a host home program where students can stay with participating community members for a longer period of time.
The most exciting project, though, is a studio class led by professor of architecture Thomas Barrie in the fall of 2019 at NC State’s College of Design. The objective of this class was to research and propose uses for two sites owned by the University that are intended for affordable housing. The 11 advanced architecture students found and proposed examples of housing units that not only addressed a lack of affordable housing but also encouraged a sense of community, sustainability and home qualities.
One housing unit worth mentioning is the I-House Global Village at Josai International University in Japan. It features open-air walkways and modern living spaces and serves both high- and low-wealth students by offering both private and communal rooms. For a four-person room, rent is as low as $80 a month. This is an extremely affordable option compared to the $747 I shell out every month for a four-bedroom apartment on Hillsborough Street, and that’s cheaper than most.
The class came up with some inspiring and innovative designs, but two years and one pandemic later, we’re not much closer to ending student homelessness than when we started. The solutions are right in front of us, so it’s time to make affordable housing for those in need a reality because getting an education shouldn’t mean having to compromise on safety and stability.