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Hundreds of students sleeping on benches and in emergency housing: ‘Do something, UG’’

Hundreds of students are still looking for a room in Groningen, but they are extremely hard to come by. Shelter Our Students (SOS) is helping them out. ‘We have to take action now.’

A young woman is posing for the camera on the steps of the Academy building, smiling broadly. She’s holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand, her degree in the other. A few yards away, four little tents have been set up with signs on them: ‘Is this your next home?’

It’s a perfect example of the dichotomy facing Groningen students for years: studying in Groningen is amazing, but many students can’t find a room when they first come here. Every year at the start of the academic year, hundreds of students are homeless.

Action

‘We have to take action’, says Marinus Jongman with Shelter Our Students (SOS). SOS is the collaborative effort of various youth and student organisations in the city. It launched a couch-surfing campaign a few weeks ago out of a concern that the emergency shelters wouldn’t have enough capacity.

Today, the city’s emergency housing is full up. But municipal spokesperson Manon Hoiting says they’ll add fifty more beds on Friday. After consulting with the UG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the city thought 150 beds would be enough, but the fifty additions will put the total number at three hundred. Hoiting also confirms that the students in emergency housing are only slowly finding a permanent place to stay.

Extra room

So it looks like SOS was right: the numbers the city estimated were much too low. The organisation has received messages from 530 students needing a place to stay, and 150 messages from people who have extra room in their homes. ‘So far, we’ve matched up a little over a hundred people’, says Jongman. ‘New students are signing up every day, so the problems is far from solved.’

As far as Jongman is concerned, it’s time to make a statement. ‘The UG says they’re not allowed to refuse to enrol students. That may be true, but the growth is causing problems. Not just in terms of housing, but also in terms of teaching capacity.’ The university has to abide by the rules the government sets, but he still thinks they should make a statement.

Collaboration

UG board member Hans Biemans, who attended the tent campaign, says proper action should be collaborative. ‘We’re working on solving the problem facing us. We’re working together with the city and the Hanze, but we’ve also been talking to other parties, like the Groningen Student Union.’

Bieman knows mistakes have been made. ‘We want to get together and assess what we could have done better this year and how we can do that. Then we can figure out what we need to take action on a national level. That will probably help a lot.’

While Jongman approves of a joint assessment, SOS feels the university is taking too much time. ‘If we have to wait for that assessment, the sense of urgency will disappear. If you really want to tackle the problem, you have to do it now.’

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