When Jesse Scheepstra moved into his little studio near the Noorderplantsoen last month, he couldn’t imagine he’d be sharing it with a perfect stranger from Belgium any time soon. ‘I am happy I did this.’
The room looks clean and organised: there’s not a crumb on the table, stacks of video games are neatly arranged on a shelf by the computer, and chess pieces are lined up ready on the board. The only thing that stands out is a rather small suitcase that lies open next to an air mattress, full of clothes and papers.
‘This is where I sleep’, says Maarten Meester, a master student of sustainable energy system management at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, pointing to his grey mattress wedged between the suitcase and the chessboard table. ‘I’m not sure for how long I will stay, but for now I’m happy to have somewhere to sleep’, he adds.
Maarten is one of more than five hundred students who have registered for emergency housing through a couchsurfing initiative set up by Shelter Our Students (SOS), which matches homeless students with people who have a spare couch. Or, in this case, a spare mattress.
When Jesse, who is currently taking a break from his studies in astronomy and computing science at the UG, heard about the initiative, it reminded him of his own ‘bad experiences’ with renting in Groningen. Wasting no time, he clicked on the form to sign up as a host: ‘I have plenty of space. I don’t mind having someone around. It’d just be a fun experience’, he says as he shrugs his shoulders.
In the meantime, Maarten was driving back to Belgium after a disappointing house viewing: the property wasn’t advertised accurately and former tenants complained about the landlady, among other things. ‘I felt really bad and didn’t know what to do yet, and at exactly that moment I got called by SOS.’
Although Maarten was relieved to hear that he would not have to slum it in hostels and shelters, he felt somewhat sceptical. He had never couchsurfed before. And, after all, the only thing he knew about his future host was his name and that he could stay with Jesse for a month. But he felt more comfortable after calling up: ‘I got the impression that Jesse was a very welcoming and open person to talk to.’
Any remaining doubts disappeared entirely as soon as he arrived. ‘Jesse showed me around the room and then we went out to discover the city. I even met some of his friends.’
After going out for dinner on the first evening, the two quickly realised they have things in common. ‘We both really like cooking so that’s…’, pauses Jesse. ‘Actually very good’, Maarten picks up the phrase he dropped.
They talk about the dishes they already treated each other to. First it was Jesse making pasta with mustard cream sauce, then Maarten cooked empanadas. ‘I wanted to impress him because he said he likes cooking’, smiles Maarten.
‘And I have something in mind for tonight,’ says Jesse. ‘I’m probably going to do groceries while you’re at the introduction event later today.’
It turned out SOS did a good job pairing them up as their personalities match nicely. ‘I am actually very introverted and I’m just into hanging out with my friends and being with my girlfriend’, says Maarten. ‘So, I’m just a casual person’, he adds.
‘That describes me very well as well’, nods Jesse. ‘I do some stuff occasionally, but I really like hanging out with my friends as my main hobby.’
Since Maarten’s classes haven’t started yet, they spend a lot of time together and they both feel good about it. If not cooking or meeting up with Jesse’s friends, the two enjoy gaming together, usually playing Minecraft or Counter Strike.
‘Oh my god, this is embarrassing, look what I’m doing’, says Maarten with a game controller in his hands, competing in a racing game with Jesse. ‘I don’t play this one too often either’, he replies, overtaking Maarten.
In real life, Maarten is also forced to compete against other students, hoping to arrive at his goal first. But no matter how promptly he answers rental ads, he hasn’t been able to secure any house viewings anymore. ‘It’s very, very competitive right now’, he says. ‘Even though this stay is a perfect solution for the first weeks, hopefully it’s not going to drag on for too long.’
Jesse doesn’t mind, though, if Maarten will need to stay with him a bit longer than for a month. ‘Hosting an enthusiastic student kind of encourages me to do a little bit more than I’d usually do if I was just alone’, he says. ‘I am happy I did this.’
There are currently over three hundred students looking for at least a temporary couch to crash on. If you are willing to house one, even for a few days, you can sign up at sosgroningen.nl