Financial constraints leave some students homeless

With apartment vacancy rates in Winnipeg dropping below one per cent over the summer, some U of M students are facing a dire shortage of affordable housing.

In some extreme cases, students have admitted to being homeless and attempting to live within the campus buildings.

“There are students that are homeless. [ . . . ] There are students that are living on campus. That’s just a reality,” said Sid Rashid, University of Manitoba Students’ Union president.

UMSU Vice-president (student advocacy) Mitch Tripple told the Manitoban that he has met with two students who admitted to being homeless —students who specifically stated they were living on campus.

Due to confidentiality issues, Tripple was not able to disclose why the students chose to live on campus in lieu of other housing arrangements and why they chose to stop. He did confirm they were both international students.

Tripple said the students had had their budgets carefully planned out but when tuition increased this past fall, they were left short.

“Both chose pursuing a university education over having a safe place to live,” said Tripple.

However, John Danakas, University of Manitoba spokesperson, stated cases like these are not very common.

“In terms of situations that might be an issue, beyond someone studying and staying overnight, [ . . . ] they are few and far between.”

“There have been occasions when individuals with some sort of personal issue in their lives have been found on campus, and Security Services has had to deal with [the situation]. [ . . . ] They’re prepared to deal with that though,” said Danakas.

According to Danakas, these situations don’t usually become a security issue, unless someone was being disruptive in some way.

“However, officers from Security Services are patrolling the campus and if they make contact with someone who looks like they might be attempting to remain on campus for more than a reasonable time, they would speak with the individual as to what their purpose is on the campus,” he said.

Residences generally fill up by the beginning of the fall term, and once on-campus housing is no longer available students must face the pressure of searching for affordable housing off-campus.

Dave Morphy, vice-provost (student affairs), explained that this creates a huge stress for students in general, especially for international students.

“They’re coming very late into the game and having to quickly scramble for housing,” said Morphy.

As of 2008, the lowest vacancy rates for areas in the city were Fort Garry at 0.2 per cent, and Assininboine Park at 0.1 per cent, according to a recent report by Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The highest vacancy rate in the city was 1.7 per cent in Lord Selkirk.

Along with availability, cost and location become the main factors students deal with when looking for housing.

“Location is a big one. If you don’t find something in the south of Winnipeg, the farther you go, the more costly it becomes to go back and forth and so on,” said Morphy.

He continued, “When you’ve got a low vacancy rate, it’s obvious that people then put up the costs of what they have to offer. [ . . . ] Apartment costs go up, certainly for people having to rent their homes in a tight market because there’s more demand than supply.”

The university offers a number of resources through the Housing and Student Life department of Student Affairs, and through the UMSU Living program that assists students in finding off-campus housing and sublet apartments.

In situations where a student is in the desperate situation of not being able to find affordable housing, Housing and Student Life has had to stretch the space within residence, as it’s practically exhausted.

“It’s really stressful [when] we’re really trying to help somebody and [ . . . they] end up being referred to [ . . . ] to the residences,” said Murphy.

“[Residences] would actually go as far as saying ‘Give us some time and let us see if we can convince a couple people with single rooms to double up,” he continued.

Tuition fees may have increased, causing financial constraints on many students that have made it more difficult to afford both tuition and rent, but applications for bursaries through Financial Aid and Awards have only gone up one per cent. The numbers of emergency loan cases are down in numbers.

In terms of student loans, some students are intimidated by the application process and taking on debt according to Jane Lastra, director of Financial Aid and Awards.

“What I do when I’m counseling students is say your education is an investment. You have to invest; that is my thing with students.”