Room shortage appears less dire
Did the warnings work?
The 111 beds in the city’s emergency shelter have been occupied for approximately two weeks now. Hostels in the city are also nearly all filled up. Nevertheless, the municipality, the university, and the Groninger Studentenbond (GSb) have hardly come across signs of students who are in danger of becoming homeless.
‘We’ve hardly received any emails from students who are in trouble. Unlike last year, when we got quite a few’, says Leon van der Deure, GSb’s outgoing chair. Back then, the situation was so dire that the GSb and other student organisations were issuing warnings halfway through the summer about the threat of students becoming homeless. According to them, the 150 emergency beds the municipality had set up wouldn’t nearly be enough.
The organisations banded together under the header Shelter Our Students (SOS) and started a couch-surfing campaign. Anyone with a spare bed or couch could sign up with SOS to provide students with at least a temporary place to stay. This way, approximately 250 students had a place to sleep. Some were couch-surfing before the academic year started, while others still hadn’t found a place to live well into the year.
Angry that this had been allowed to happen, SOS occupied the Academy building in September of last year. The group wanted to have a debate with the board of directors and the municipality. They demanded better organisation of emergency housing both current and future and wanted the university to inform international students about the housing crisis in Groningen in a timely manner. The parties reached an agreement after hours of negotiations.
We’ve hardly received any emails from students who are in trouble
The agreements on better emergency shelter and improved communication about the room shortage were intended to prevent another disaster this year. In preparing for this academic year, the institutes did change their approach.
The municipality mainly focused on emergency shelter in the form of rooms that can house two, three, or four people, as opposed to the massive dorm students were staying in last year, which turned out to be a stressful environment for them. Students were also able to reserve a bed online this year so they wouldn’t have to first come to Groningen and hope there were still beds available.
Fewer emergency beds
One disappointment was the actual number of beds the municipality arranged. Before the summer, the municipality was aiming for 260 beds, only to end up with 111. According to them, it’s because there were relatively few empty properties available, and because of the extra emergency shelter needed for asylum permit holders and Ukrainian refugees, among others.
As a way to relieve the temporary housing measures, the municipality set up a pilot project with Hospi Housing, a platform that connects people with a spare room to students who need a place to live. This enables students to live in someone else’s house for up to six months. The rooms for rent cost an average of 400 euros a month and the students pay Hospi Housing a matching fee when they get a room.
For this fee, Hospi Housing personally inspects the facilities at the rental locations. Both renters and tenants get a say in who their temporary roommate will be. According to Hospi Housing, approximately one thousand students and fifty potential renters have signed up. They have made twenty-five matches so far.
While the municipality, the UG, and GSb haven’t received any signs of students in trouble, SOS has been busy matching people up through their couch-surfing campaign since Monday. ‘Our sign-ups have been open continuously, but we only start work when we think it’s truly necessary’, says Ken Hesselink on behalf of SOS.
‘I heard a story about a student who’s sleeping in his friend’s car, which means it’s time to spring into action’, he says. That means the people working for SOS have been calling people who signed up as either in need of a couch or providing one.
Once I heard about a student sleeping in a car, it was time to spring into action
Approximately 113 students have signed up since halfway through August, and SOS has made approximately ten matches since Monday morning. ‘We only help those who are truly in an emergency, so no one who’s in an emergency shelter or staying at a hostel.’
Hesselink thinks they wouldn’t be necessary if the municipality had actually been able to create the 260 beds they’d promised. Nevertheless, he, too, says the situation isn’t as dire as it was last year. ‘Last year, I was on the phone with panicking people all day, and that’s not the case this year. But the housing shortage hasn’t been solved yet.’
Something Hesselink has also noticed is that quite a few people in search of a couch ultimately decide not to come to Groningen. ‘I think the messages about the room shortage in Groningen and the improved communication have in fact helped. I’ve talked to quite a few students who did sign up, but never came to Groningen.’
This would be good news for the municipality and the institutes of higher education. As part of the agreement reached during last year’s occupation, they started warning students well before the summer: ‘Don’t come to Groningen if you haven’t found a room by August 1’, they all said. ‘I don’t think a warning like that presents a reasonable solution’, says Hesselink. ‘But it was important to get results in the short term.’
We’re taking into account the possibility of a second wave
Whether prospective students actually got the message, the municipality and the university can’t say. ‘We’ve noticed that it’s much quieter than previous years, but the number of enrolments at the UG and Hanze was just as high as last year’, says city spokesperson Manon Hoiting. ‘Because of that, we are taking into account the possibility of a second wave of students in need of a room.’
UG spokesperson Elies Kouwenhoven is also non-committal. ‘We’re hardly hearing anything, which, frankly, is a little weird. We’re also hardly seeing any signs of students in distress on social media’, she says. This could be a good sign, but the university isn’t fully banking on that. ‘We’ll have to wait and see.’
However, both organisations do have faith in their collaboration. The GSb, which meets with them weekly to talk about emergency shelter, is also satisfied with the state of affairs. ‘There are definitely some discussions about the room shortage in general to be had’, says Van der Deure. ‘But we can look back on a year in which we’ve made progress concerning emergency shelter.’