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These students are about to become homeless

Indian students Herchel, Ritu and Shivom are out of ideas. ‘What if we just storm the university and set up camp there?’

Esdoornflat tenants must leave by Wednesday

These students are about to become homeless

More than a hundred students living in the Esdoornflat must move out by this Wednesday. Yet around half of them still haven’t found a new place to stay. Who are they and what’s their story?
By Edward Szekeres / Photos by Felipe Silva

Say hello to the future homeless of Groningen: the defiant Peruvian who is ready to sleep on a bench if necessary; the unnerved Egyptian who moved six times in a month and tried almost every hostel in the city; the despaired Georgian who feels like the university and the city are turning a blind eye. They all live in the Esdoornflat – but not for long.

The Esdoornflat is one of the three emergency housing locations set up this year by the university, municipality, and housing corporations to tackle Groningen’s room shortage. It opened in early August and proved an instant hit with students who came to the city without a permanent place to stay.

It was so popular that the 120 private rooms have stayed fully booked since they opened. But this Wednesday, students must leave whether they like it or not. The building will begin a much-needed renovation next year.

Housing agencies told me that it was impossible to find a room and I should give up

Chemistry student Herchel

‘People can always go to the Metaallaan facility if they still don’t have a permanent place to stay’, said alderman Roeland van der Schaaf at a council meeting last week. ‘We will keep the school open as long as necessary.’

But many students don’t like the idea of having to put up with snoring strangers in shared rooms. They’re angry. Many are scared. Others are just stressed from the constant uncertainty. It’s affecting their studies, health, and wellbeing.

One big lottery

‘The first thing I do every morning is check SSH and other websites for a free room. But there’s nothing’, says chemistry student Herchel.

While most people start their mornings with their Instagram feed or the latest fail compilation on YouTube, Herchel must scan housing portals, hopelessly. ‘Kamernet is just one big lottery; other agencies even told me that it was impossible to find a room and I should give up. I have a budget of €500, yet they still say I’d be lucky to even get a viewing.’

Shivom and Ritu sigh and nod in agreement. The three Indian students are sitting in the kitchen they share with a dozen other tenants. It’s one of their last nights in the Esdoornflat, and their housing prospects are looking dire.

Ritu stayed in a hostel for two weeks before moving into her emergency room. She also tried The Village, but found it uncomfortable with so many strangers around. She’s now facing a tough choice: go back to the hostel or try the Metaallaan option. ‘I knew the room situation was tough here, but I had no idea it was this bad.’

We paid more than ten thousand to get here, we can’t just drop out of university. I’d rather stay out on the streets

Computing science student Shivom

Computing science student Shivom is finding it hard to concentrate on his studies. He’s missed some classes and hasn’t turned in assignments because all of his time is taken up with viewings. ‘I can’t tell my family how bad it is here. They’d get worried.’

For Indian students, living out of a suitcase is the only option. They can’t just turn around and go back to their family home like a Dutch student would do. ‘We are suffering here, but we can’t simply give up. We paid more than ten thousand euros to get here, we can’t just drop out of university. I’d rather stay out on the streets’, says Shivom.

The three friends think the university is partly to blame for creating an environment that makes it easy for housing agencies to take advantage of their desperation. Landlords know they will pay whatever they have to in order to stay off the street. They kick around other ideas: ‘what if we just storm the university and set up camp there? Then the RUG can be our home, and the city could be our campus.’

Buried in paperwork

Gabriela and Vlad might crash with friends after they have to leave the Esdoornflat.

Romanian psychology student Gabriela and her boyfriend Vlad spend most of their day messaging landlords and agencies. They have sent over 70 messages. ‘They almost never respond. And when they do, they say the room is only for Dutch students’, Vlad sighs.

On the rare occasion the couple gets invited to a viewing, Vlad says the paperwork and forms required just to prove their income is overwhelming. ‘It just feels like the Dutch students get the rooms way easier.’

The couple doesn’t have a plan for after 9 October, aside from maybe crashing with friends. They are already living light; they even share a bowl because they don’t have the space to store dishes. They hope at least one viewing will work out before their time is up. ‘We just have to keep trying and see what happens.’

Nederlands

08 October 2019 | 9-10-2019, 12:03
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