Portland State University opened the doors to The Landing, a refuge located in a church near campus for students facing housing instability, a month ago for the fall semester.
The university’s first attempt to provide temporary beds was in the spring semester, but only one student used the facility, although officials knew there were many more in need. After closing the shelter for the summer, the university stepped up its outreach and education activities on the group of eight private sleeping cabins with useful amenities.
The Landing is a low barrier shelter that is paid for by and operated by the First United Methodist Church of Portland. The church raised funds to start the shelter and asked the community to provide time or supplies to help build the space.
Now five students rest their heads at The Landing each night.
“It’s comfortable enough for a shelter,” said Stevie Stevenson, one of the students residing at The Landing. “I just wish more people knew, it’s because I know that with the homeless rate in Portland, there are more students who could benefit from it.”
The Landing is part of a three-tier housing system that Portland State University has developed. In an immediate emergency, there are accommodations where students can stay for a day or two while their situation is assessed. The Landing, although temporary, offers baby cots at a shelter where students can stay as long as they need, for the entire semester or longer. The third resource is the subsidized housing made available through the Affordable Rent Program for college students.
While the programs offer great help, they can only serve a very small portion of students due to limited funding. More than 52% of students at 17 Oregon community colleges said they feared they could pay rent or utilities or had to live in substandard housing in the past year, according to a nationwide survey from Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
THE LANDING SHELTER
With subsidized apartments for Oregon students being very scarce, Walsh hopes more students will take advantage of The Landing and the shelter can eventually expand to include more beds and more locations. While there are no plans or funding yet, Walsh would eventually like to see another shelter that is actually on the PSU campus.
While there is no religious requirement to stay at the Shelter, students must have a COVID-19 vaccine and a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted. The only restrictions are that the shelter is not equipped to accommodate children and that it is not accessible by the ADA.
Stevenson found The Landing after his roommate’s situation became dangerous.
“It was very different for me because I have never been to a shelter before,” she said. “But they’ve gone out of their way to make sure everything is comfortable and (that residents) are supported while maintaining their independence.”
The only challenge is knowing where to go during the day. Students are permitted to stay at The Landing from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Each guest has a cot in a private room surrounded by makeshift walls, a place to study and a secure place to store their personal effects. There is also a shared kitchen and laundry room and free Wi-Fi.
“But the day is kind of a challenge,” Stevenson said. “Mainly in the evenings because I work the day a few days a week, but then I have to find a place to go in the early evening and if you have an online course you have to find a place to log into that course during the night. daytime.”
While there are spaces on campus where students can participate in online classes, Stevenson said she goes to a friend’s house during the day to do so. But overall, she said the shelter is a resource she is grateful to have.
“Having a personal space to store our things and having space to do the laundry is a big problem,” she said.
In a perfect setup, students staying at The Landing could upgrade to a subsidized apartment. But currently, the 20 subsidized places are filled. These 20 spaces are shared between three colleges and two nonprofits – Portland State University, Portland Community College, Mt. Hood Community College, New Avenues for Youth and College Housing Northwest.
“One of the biggest barriers to subsidized housing is that many programs, like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit or Section 8, exclude full-time students,” said Mike Walsh, Dean of the Portland State University student life. “That’s why we developed this pilot program to get around this problem… Because students had to choose accommodation or a school. “
The subsidized housing program, which is in its second year, started with seed funding from College Housing Northwest, a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing to students. Recently, the program received $ 280,000 in state support with the help of Senator Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale. It costs about $ 7,000 to provide subsidized housing for a single student for one year under the program, which covers 50% of a student’s rent.
Amanda Ward, 29, is one of the 20 current recipients – a status that makes them cry to talk about it. Half of their rent of $ 1,150 for her one-bedroom apartment has been paid by the allowance since March. Ward uses student loans to pay his tuition and cleans houses to save for other expenses.
“I was about to drop out of school because I was about to be homeless again,” said Ward, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in social work. Ward focuses on child, youth and family services and hopes to someday work in the affordable housing sector.
Ward’s first experience with homelessness came shortly after graduating from high school. After Ward proved strange to his mother, they were no longer welcome in his childhood home. Ward ended up at a homeless youth shelter in downtown Portland and was eventually connected to housing. But balancing a job, paying the bills and staying in school was a constant struggle. Ward would lose his home as they scrambled to pay their bills, then try to keep pace with college as they bounced from place to place. During those 10 years, Ward eventually earned an associate’s degree while facing the realities of life on the streets – drugs, sexual abuse, and hardship. But now that they have stable housing, Ward’s dreams are even bigger – they would like to pursue a master’s degree in community development after completing a bachelor’s degree, a dream that seems more achievable for Ward now that they no longer have to. focus on the day. -day-to-day survival.
“I’m a whole different student now that I have housing,” Ward said. “I know there are stressful things to come and mid-sessions are coming, but I can be home. I am safe. I can be hot and have a full refrigerator. These things made me a new student. I am able to learn differently and write differently because my basic needs are met.
Ward hopes the subsidized apartment program will expand so that other students can have the same experience as them: a warm bed to sleep in that won’t get wet in the rain, walls to cover with artwork. art from his friends and a bar and stools for breakfast. in their kitchen where guests can sit and eat.
“Sometimes bad things happen to us, but it’s not your fault, it’s not my fault,” Ward said. “I wish I could tell other people. If you don’t have a place to stay, that doesn’t mean it’s a personal failure. Sometimes it’s just part of the system and it’s a system that we fight against.
Nicole Hayden reports on homelessness for The Oregonian | OregonLive. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.