By Maddy Harvey
College can be one of the most stressful time in a person’s life due to all the deadlines, classes, debt, and everything in between. However, many students have another thing to add to the stress of college, and that’s being homeless.
Cynthia Paredes, a former HSU student, was homeless for a few months her second year attributed this experience to her eventual decision to leave HSU and go back home and transfer.
“My mental health was at it’s worst when I was going through this,” Paredes said, “I was completely empty and didn’t know who I was. I couldn’t be happy in Humboldt anymore. I go to school in SoCal now and I’ve been working on myself and am doing so much better.”
Humboldt State University has quite a bit of a homeless student problem. In fact, 15 percent of students surveyed at HSU have reported to have experienced housing insecurity, according to a report done by Jennifer Macguire of HSU.
This number is concerning considering that the rate of homeless students in the CSU system, that spans 23 universities, averages about 10 percent, as reported by a detailed report on homeless students in the CSU system by Rashida Crutchfield from CSU Long Beach.
Homelessness can have an influence on a student’s mental well being that can negatively impact how they perform in school and their ability to focus due to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and other distressing disorders, according to a study done by the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.
HSU has taken some steps to address the issue and offer some help to students, including hosting housing nights where students can become familiar with how to go about places up for rent and how to fill out the applications, but many agree that there is always more that can be done.
Chanté Catt of the Homeless Student Advocate Alliance, a group on campus that works with and for homeless students, has some simple advice for the school on what they can do about the crisis.
“Quit enrolling people and not matching the available housing to the area,” Catt said, “This is the biggest issue.”
Unfortunately, HSU has not been too responsive to this since they continue to admit a greater number students that they cannot fully support, and has led to a “housing lottery” and long waitlist being used the last couple years since there isn’t enough supply for the demand.
HSU housing administrators were contacted multiple times to respond to these criticism but did not offer comments.
“Honestly I don’t know much of what they’re doing, but I’m sure they know the problem is up in the air,” Catt said, “Individual staff, faculty and professors are helping in many ways and are very supportive.”
For Paredes they didn’t seem to do much when she was put on the waitlist for housing, and didn’t offer her much information on what her situation would be until the school year had already begun.
“They eventually put me in this, like, big room where they put new transfers and overflow housing in the Hill, and they didn’t even give me that option until a week or so into the semester when I had been crashing on the small couch in my friend’s dorm since I had no place else to go,” Paredes said.
On top of that the housing they do offer on campus can be too expensive for many, which is the major reason so many non-freshman students choose to live off campus, even when that can become a greater hassle since the housing market in Arcata is so competitive, and the rent for off campus places just keeps getting raised as well.
Kira Hudson, a graduating senior has been homeless for quite a while and has just accepted that this has become a part of her life.
“They just kept raising my rent and I couldn’t do it anymore and I just became so frustrated,” Hudson said, “I finally just moved out of where I was and ended up living in my car for a few months and now I’m just staying with some friends.”
Hudson’s experience is a great example of how the community members here are so willing to help out their neighbors, but also shows the greater issue of the area taking advantage of the student population and charging them so much for housing and getting away with it because they need a roof over our heads and don’t want to have to travel too far from campus.
This community based effort is something that Humboldt is known for, and it’s really great, since sometimes the only thing that can be done in the moment is to just to help out your neighbor.
It should also be noted that the students have more power than they know to make a change and demand better resources and options, there is strength in numbers.
“It’s up to the students to make the changes. That’s what really matters,” Catt said.