For students experiencing homelessness, on-campus housing is critical. While on-campus housing provides stability during the fall and spring semester, unfortunately, many on-campus housing options close for winter and summer break. This can leave you scrounging for alternative housing options to fill those gaps until the campus housing opens again. As you look through the housing options available and make plans for breaks when your campus is closed, here are some important things to consider.
1. Some campuses offer housing options specifically for students with experience in homelessness or foster care.
More campuses in the last few years have stepped up to better support students experiencing homelessness or who were in foster care during breaks when campuses are closed. Here are some examples of creative options campuses have come up with:
- Prioritizing students experiencing homelessness or in foster care for on-campus apartments or rooms that stay open during winter break.
- Keeping one floor of a residence hall open during winter break and allowing students in need to move into that space until their housing re-opens. Some institutions have provided access to food and laundry services too during this time.
- Providing hotel assistance to cover housing in emergency situations when students do not have anywhere to go.
- Utilizing Airbnb as an option for students in need to stay together during the break with food provided.
- Reaching out to the campus community and using a host home model where students can stay with alumni or friends of the institution during the winter break.
- Meeting with students to strategize options in the community for housing during school closures.
- Providing food stipends and/or gift cards for at-risk students as needed, if dining halls are not accessible.
Sometimes, there are housing options available that you may not even know about. Often these options might not be advertised, so it is critical for you to communicate with Housing and Residence Life or a trusted faculty member to let them know you need help with housing during breaks.
2. Communicating with Housing and Residence Life or with a trusted faculty member may open up additional resources.
If you are finding that your campus does not offer any specific resources for housing during breaks, it can still be useful to reach out to someone you trust at your institution. This could open up additional resources or at least provide someone to check-in with you throughout the break to see how you’re doing.
“Make sure you let not only Residential Life know about your situation, but also any other potential on-campus support programs or organizations as well. The Office of Scholar Programs knew I’d be staying on-campus over Thanksgiving break, and so I was invited to a nice, free dinner.”
3. Ask questions about residence hall closures as early as possible so that you can make plans for breaks.
Often we hear stories of students who had no idea their residence halls would be closed for winter break until the end of the Fall semester. As you can imagine, this can be stressful trying to find housing options in addition to studying for finals. Check your Housing/Residence Life webpage or send an email or call Housing and Residence Life to ask if and when your on-campus housing will be closed so that you can make plans and ask about resources.
Some institutions might allow students to stay over the winter break by filling out an application and paying a fee. Reach out to Housing and Residence Life to see if this is an option and to also see if your institution offers emergency funds that you can use to pay for this fee.
4. Consider off-campus housing options that provide year-long leases if you are able to financially support yourself.
Some students (especially upperclassmen) find that off-campus housing can provide a good year-round alternative to on-campus housing. By renting an off-campus house or apartment with a 12-month lease, students do not have to worry about leaving during breaks including the summer months. This option, while being consistent and year-round, should not be chosen without careful consideration. If you’re thinking about living off-campus and signing a lease, here are some things to consider:
- How much is the application fee and deposit for the property?
- Will I need a cosigner and if so, is there someone in my life who is willing to do that?
- Will I have enough money to cover rent until I receive my refund from financial aid (if you are planning to receive a refund)?
- See if your school can provide you with your refund early, and if so, what stipulations there may be.
- Is there someone who can help me look over my lease to make sure that everything looks good?
- Do I have reliable transportation to campus? Should I be concerned about commuting? Is the immediate area safe?
- Can I afford utilities and internet (if applicable)?
5. Another option is to look into becoming a resident assistant (RA) if applicable. These jobs may provide room and board and potentially an option to stay on-campus during the winter break, in addition to providing employment.
Look into creative housing options during these times.
If you plan to live on campus and you will have breaks where you will need to find alternative housing solutions, it can be helpful to brainstorm creative solutions such as:
- Take part in service-learning or study-abroad trips during breaks through your institution. Sometimes there is funding assistance that will make these trips at low cost for students in need.
- Consider working at a residential summer camp or being a summer RA. Often, these jobs provide room and board for almost the entire duration of the summer months and can be a great resume-building experience.
- Look into summer internships or fellowships that provide housing assistance/stipends.
- Some universities provide summer bridge programs where incoming freshmen have the opportunity to live on campus and earn college credit during the summer before their freshman year commences.
“As a summer camp counselor, I not only earned free housing and meals, but I was able to earn a wage, explore a new state, and build friendships that have lasted for years. Better yet, no one had to know why I was there. I was just your normal camp counselor.”
“Benefits of my summer bridge program included finishing my general education credits early, learning the campus and its amenities before it was overrun by thousands of students in the Fall, and bonding with a small group of like-minded peers.”
Remember you are not alone.
It can be overwhelming to try and find housing during breaks and it might seem like you are the only person who is navigating this process. But remember that you are not alone. Your institution might have a support program for students who have similar experiences, and they might be able to provide a support network of students in similar situations.
“Find people who have been through homelessness and/or have similar hardships about housing. If things go south, they’ll be the people who can help you out, and vice-versa, not to mention the fact that they’re going through the same stresses as you and can be some of the best shoulders to lean on when needed.” -Christian, SHC Scholar