A little over a month after the first emergency accommodation for homeless students opened, UKrant popped over to The Village, the Martinihouse and the Bud Gett Hostel to see how internationals are doing. ‘I live on bread, cheese and salads.’
The lamps on the metallic ceiling stay on even on a sunny afternoon: a couple of windows barely provide enough natural light to reach the length of the eighty-bed facility. With long rows of beds, each marked by a number and separated by a moveable screen, The Village at the Peizerweg would look like a field hospital if it weren’t for the tables cluttered with textbooks and instant noodles cups.
Lack of a kitchen
Even though most of the temporary tenants are out, every little murmur or shuffle bounces off the bare walls. Claudia Piszczek is the only one who’s able to focus on her assignment despite the ceaseless din. ‘It’s hard to study here’, says the European languages and cultures student from Poland. ‘Falling asleep is also difficult because the noise wouldn’t really stop even at night, but I’ve learned not to pay much attention to that.’
But what Claudia hasn’t been able to get used to is the lack of a kitchen: students aren’t allowed to cook or boil water to make beverages. ‘If we want to drink tea, we have to pay two euros for a cup at the restaurant downstairs.’
I saw some people with a pressure cooker in the bathroom
The same applies to hot meals, which makes the nine-euros-a-night stay too costly for many shelter residents. ‘I have been staying here for a month, so I now survive on bread, cheese and prepared salads,’ she says.
Fries every day
Art history student Jeremy Przystupa agrees that eating out every day is too expensive for many students: ‘One of my friends here eats fries every day because he tries to save money.’
It’s very hard without a kitchen, he says, so some students even end up cooking secretly. ‘A few days ago, I saw some people with a pressure cooker in the bathroom’, he says. ‘That’s pretty desperate.’
The Village location employees don’t seem to take student concerns to heart. ‘This is a temporary and emergency accommodation’, says one of them. ‘We are trying to help students by giving them a roof, but we are not the ones to solve the problem.’
Helena Drzazgowska, a student of arts, culture and media originally from Poland, managed to move from The Village to the Martinihouse at the Donderslaan, which she considers to be ‘a miracle’.
‘After four days at the depressing big hall where everybody was just laying in bed or staring at the ceiling, it’s such a comfort to be here’, she says, showing the sunlit and cozy room she shares with law student Julia Kaminska. ‘For around twelve euros a night, we have our own bathroom and there is a kitchen with microwaves on every floor, so we have everything we need.’
The Martinihouse residents sign a no-cooking contract, mainly because there are too many people. Though pans sitting on the stovetop next to an unfinished tomato sauce container along with a number of bottles of olive oil speak volumes about students’ diet.
If someone tests positive, it could be a major hazard
‘They let us use the shared kitchen as long as we separate our things and keep our distance’, says Annika Geschke. The law student from Denmark finds this an understandable measure, considering the corona virus: ‘Everyone on this floor shares the same kitchen and study room, so if someone tests positive, that could be a major hazard.’
On a budget
In contrast to the gloomy corridors of the student shelters, a respectable atmosphere prevails in the lobby of the city centre hotel: the receptionist greets visitors with a smile, a group of middle-aged Dutchmen are enjoying dinner and, in the corner, two students are competing in darts, as if they had nothing else to worry about.
The reality is that the students staying at the Bud Gett hostel have nowhere else to go. The hostel is connected to the hotel by a passage. Whoever walks through it will immediately find rooms that are wall-to-wall with bunk beds for homeless internationals.
‘There are seven beds in my room, so it’s nice to just be out in the lobby’, says AI student Vojo Westmoreland from the US, who has been looking for a permanent place to live since June.
Could be worse
His fellow darts player, law student Lennart-Justus Stoffers from Austria, has been staying in a ten-bed room for three weeks now. At almost twenty four euros a night, staying in a hostel is not as cheap as having your own place, ‘but it could be worse’, he says. ‘The location is prime and you get to meet new people very easily.’
What about the stumbling block at all the shelters, permission to use the kitchen? No problem here, the students say, showing a photo of a sixty-centimetre sandwich filled with vegetables and cheese they made today. ‘There is a microwave and a water cooker, so you can always get creative with the stuff that can be thrown into the microwave.’
Hopes and fears
It seems Claudia can move out of The Village shelter soon. ‘I am counting down the days until I have my own room with a kitchen and bathroom.’ Julia and Helena are planning to extend their stay at the Martinihouse until Christmas.
Vojo and Lennart-Justus are hopeful that their search for something more ‘proper’ also ends soon. ‘Every week, a few of our roommates find new places, so you see that this is not hopeless’, says the law student. ‘And, one day, it’s your turn.’