Registered and not housed: students find it difficult to find accommodation a few weeks before the fall term
While most of Cal Poly’s students ate at the table and slept in a warm bed under a roof in San Luis Obispo, Savannah Bosley spent the first two weeks of the fall term living in her car.
Bosley, a second year computer science student at Cal Poly, said she couldn’t find a place to live off campus, so she made a makeshift bed in the back of her Toyota Prius and tried to make the small space as comfortable as possible.
She didn’t always feel safe sleeping in her car, so some nights she was surfing on the couch at a friend’s house.
âI haven’t had a peaceful night’s rest for two weeks now,â Bosley said.
Students have struggled to find accommodation in San Luis Obispo for the first school year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the majority of classes are held in person. Three weeks after the start of the fall term, students are still posting and commenting on a Facebook housing group for Cal Poly students looking for housing, which has over 21,300 members.
This fall, more students than ever reached out to Cal Poly’s Basic Needs Working Group to help them find housing, according to Joy Pederson, Dean of Students and co-chair of the working group.
âI’ve been here 18 years and we’ve always struggled, but for some reason it’s more difficult this year,â said Pederson.
Among California’s public universities, Cal Poly is not alone in experiencing a shortage of student accommodation. UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego have decided to house the students in nearby hotels until they find a place to live off campus.
It is not known what has contributed to the current shortage of student accommodation in San Luis Obispo.
The San Luis Obispo Housing Authority did not respond to multiple phone calls or emails from Mustang News. Formerly known as HASLO, the authority “helps the city meet the housing needs of low- and middle-income households,” according to the city’s website.
Pederson said she suspected people from outside the central coast of moving to San Luis Obispo to work remotely, contributing to the city’s overall housing shortage. She did not provide any data to support the theory.
Pederson said he heard from students who could not find housing in San Luis Obispo, others who could not afford housing, and a combination of the two.
For students who can find housing but can’t afford it, the Cal Poly Cares Emergency Fund helps students facing financial challenges such as providing them with a security deposit or the first month’s rent, said Pederson.
The university opened applications for the fund and the program awarded grants during the fall term. So far this quarter, 42 students have received Cal Poly Cares grants, with an average amount of $ 905.10, according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier.
For students who cannot find housing, Cal Poly has an emergency housing program, although Pederson said the threshold for qualifying is higher due to limited resources. There are a total of eight beds available for students who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
According to Lazier, as of October 4, Cal Poly Housing had a waiting list of 29 students and about 20 places open in shared rooms for female students.
Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) President Tess Loarie said these programs require students who have used up all of their financial aid, which includes obtaining loans before applying.
“This model of help that we are offering is not a model of help that every student wants to tap into and that is why students sleep in their cars,” Loarie said.
When it comes to helping students with basic needs, Loarie said she always comes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
âStudents have so much stress and so many different areas of their lives happening that [school] isn’t even the bottom of the pyramid, âLoarie said. “How do you expect someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from worries about studying for a semester?” “
A stroke of luck but we must do more
While she lived in her car, Bosley did not have a refrigerator or pantry, so every morning she would wake up at 7 a.m. to buy food for the day. She said that was the hardest part about living with her Prius.
Because Cal Poly does not offer a public kitchen or space to cook on campus, Bosley often relied on local friends to make hot dinners in the evenings.
âIt wasn’t great for me because I have friends in the area, but the kids who took online classes for two years and then came to Cal Poly don’t know anyone in person,â said Bosley. “I feel a little bad for this situation because what are you doing?” ”
Once on campus, Bosley would spend all day there – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – working remotely and attending classes.
She also said Cal Poly could do more to help homeless students.
âI just feel like a lot of students are falling into the crack – there isn’t a lot of economic diversity,â Bosley said. “I am here working 30 hours a week and yet even when there are rooms available they are out of my price budget.”
In Connecticut and without options
Biosciences junior Simone Goetsch is still at home with her family in Guilford, Connecticut as she couldn’t find affordable housing in San Luis Obispo before the start of the quarter.
Goetsch had taken the previous two terms for personal reasons, so signing up for a fully virtual course load for the fall was the only option to keep her enrolled at Cal Poly.
âI really wanted to continue doing school, but because I can’t do it in person, I decided to do it online,â Goetsch said. “It’s kind of a feeling of last resort – to stay in school I had to keep doing it online.”
Goetsch said she looks forward to returning to class in person. Now she feels like she’s missing a fall term in person.
She is currently looking for accommodation for the Winter Quarter, but said even that seemed out of reach.
âI feel like I’m at the point where I’m not going to find a place to live,â Goetsch said. “It’s really tricky because there really isn’t much and so many people in the same boat as us looking for the same thing.”
Grab straws on Facebook
Since September, at least 15 Cal Poly students have posted to the Cal Poly Housing Facebook group, letting members know they are still looking for housing. It is not known if or how many of them found accommodation, but Limas Nursalim, senior in IT, got lucky thanks to the online group.
Nursalim started looking for accommodation in San Luis Obispo in April. Since then, he has applied to over 20 rental properties and has spent over $ 200 on application fees with property management companies.
âI think I’ve probably applied for every house I’ve seen on the market,â Nursalim said.
As an international student, Nursalim did not have a co-signer or credit score – another hurdle that prevented him from securing accommodation for the school year.
When he tried to explain this to property managers, Nursalim said most places had “ghosted” him.
âIt was a really tedious process,â Nursalim said. “I kind of lost track of myself.”
A week before the start of classes, Nursalim was still homeless. He posted an article on the Cal Poly Housing Facebook group in earnest, saying he was still looking for housing.
He said he had received several offers and moved to an off-campus location four days before classes started.
Nursalim said he felt relieved to find a place, especially after property management companies never called him back after submitting applications and paying the application fees.
After spending two weeks without housing, Bosley also found a place through the same Facebook group with a “bunch of misfits looking for housing,” she said.
Although the rent was a bit higher than she hoped, Bosley said she was just happy to finally have a place of her own.
She moved into a house on October 1.
âI’m just excited to have some peace and my own space,â Bosley said.
This story comes from The Hill, a team of investigative, data-driven, data analysts and journalists at Mustang News. Click here for read more stories from The Hill.