UC Santa Cruz graduates create homeless shelter for students

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SANTA CRUZ – Two recent UC Santa Cruz graduates are tackling the problem of housing insecurity among students in the region.

Connor Kensok and Abbi Cundall are both founding co-chairs of Slug Shelter, a student organization created to accommodate students facing homelessness during their studies. Despite the program’s namesake after the UC Santa Cruz mascot, it is not exclusive to UCSC students. The duo hope to help all university students in the region who experience homelessness.

“This shelter will be for college age students who are currently enrolled in classes,” Cundall said. “It will be open to students from Cabrillo or any other student in the area who has housing issues.”

A national survey by Real College focused on the housing and food needs of students found that 14% of students in the United States were afflicted with homelessness in 2019. Cundall and Kensok believe that number could be worse in Santa Cruz with the high cost of living in the area. , which is compounded by the cost of schooling.

Nasser and Faye Zia, from San Diego, watch their daughter Mona, right, try to find room for her things in her dorm at Stevenson College in September 2015, on move-in day to UC Santa Cruz. (Dan Coyro – Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

Tuition fees at UC Santa Cruz are currently $ 14,070 per year, according to UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason. Housing on campus can add a range of costs to a student’s education. Students living in dormitories can see between $ 14,517 and $ 20,673 in additional costs each year depending on the living situation and meal plan, according to the UCSC housing website.

Apartments on campus, which do not include meal plans, are offered at cheaper rates, but still range from $ 11,304 to $ 16,587 per year, according to the website. Off campus, rental prices continue to skyrocket. Studios in Santa Cruz can range from $ 1,575 per month to $ 2,600 at some resorts, according to Apartments.com.

“There is a pretty big housing problem in Santa Cruz and it affects students quite badly,” Kensok said. “I have known three or four students who personally told me that they were homeless at some point in their university careers. They just didn’t have space because they couldn’t find accommodation in Santa Cruz.

UCSC has provided approximately $ 318 million in student financial assistance to help ease the cost burden during the 2019-20 school year, according to Hernandez-Jason. This disbursement reached over 12,530 undergraduates and 1,890 graduate students.

Despite the level of financial assistance provided by the university, some students still find themselves in a difficult situation.

“We certainly want all of our students to be able to focus fully on their education, but we know that some of our students face a number of challenges,” Hernandez-Jason wrote in an email to Sentinel. “We are committed to finding additional ways to provide support where we can. “

UCSC also offers an emergency housing program for homeless students at no cost to students. Cundall and Kensok wanted to help students more, especially since the university’s program is short-term when housing issues can persist for much longer.

The programs will have similarities, such as supporting students and connecting them with programs that will help their situation during their transition to permanent housing. However, the Slug Shelter does not intend to go through the university. The shelter will consider using campus resources, but hopes to conduct an independent operation.

A hand

The duo Banana Slug first came up with the idea for the shelter in November 2020 as seniors after hearing about a similar shelter created by UCLA students six years ago. The Bruin Shelter, also named after the school’s mascot, helped establish a student shelter at its rival school, the University of Southern California.

The idea has now started to spread throughout the state with the implementation of the program by UCSC and the formation of another program at UC Davis. The influence of UCLA’s student shelter program extends beyond California. The University of Connecticut and the State of Portland have also contacted the shelter to learn lessons, according to Bruin Shelter President Doug Nguyen.

The flagship program has been instrumental in setting up other programs. While the UCLA team cannot help find shelter or resources for other schools – mainly due to a lack of institutional knowledge in each area – they can help lay the foundation for each program. germination.

“When schools contact us, we have material that we share with them,” Nguyen said. “This includes a few documents like how we set up our board of directors, undergraduate duties, how we conduct a shift, the case management services we provide and some key documents that we used as agreement forms (residents).

The Slug Shelter is still in the planning stages, as the team still have a few logistical hurdles to overcome before they can start housing students. One of the biggest issues the shelter faces is finding a location. The costs and availability of housing are proving to be a barrier for the shelter, not just the students it hopes to help.

Kensok and Cundall are in talks with local churches and shelters to find a place to house the students. The shelter is also seeking donations and grants to support the effort.

The goal is to house 12 to 15 students at the shelter, which is similar to the capacity of the Bruin and Trojan shelters. Kensok and Cundall want the Slug Shelter to look like a dormitory. Their vision includes a few bedrooms for students, a bedroom for an on-site volunteer, a kitchen, and a common living space where residents can lounge, study, read, or watch TV.

“While we want to have housing for these students, we also want them to be able to build a community between them. One that they might not have been able to build otherwise, ”Cundall said. “(They) then also see that there are other people in their situation and that they are not alone. I know homelessness can be a very lonely situation. “

Start the conversation

The shelter will also do much more than benefit students in difficult housing situations. It will also be a professional development opportunity for students who volunteer. The Slug Shelter plans to be a legitimate operation with non-profit status.

Students can mention their work at the shelter on resumes or receive letters of recommendation from its management team. However, what nonprofit form the shelter will take, whether through a 501 (c) (3) or otherwise, has not yet been determined.

The shelter hopes to have up to 50 to 60 volunteers. As recent graduates, Kensok and Cundall are currently recruiting the new management team so they can pass the torch and make the shelter a student-run organization.

The team hopes the shelter will raise awareness that homelessness also affects students, a demographic they say is overlooked in the conversation. He also hopes to spark the general conversation about homelessness and its solutions.

“I think it will create a sense of community and get students thinking about how students, like me in a financially fortunate situation, can help less fortunate students,” Kensok said.

The two graduates hope to be able to open the refuge in the winter. The target is November or December, Cundall said, but an opening date would depend on when the team can land a location.

Those wishing to keep up to date with the shelter’s progress can do so on its Instagram account @slugshelter or on its website slugshelter.org, which is expected to launch on Saturday. Interested donors or those wishing to help can contact the organization by email at [email protected]

“Seeing this spreading not only in the state but in the country itself, it’s great to see this conversation opening up to such a large population,” said Bruin Shelter vice president Shristi. Paul. “By having such an open source model, it increases the visibility of student roaming. By increasing the number of shelters that we have been able to build in all the institutions, it increases the conversations that people can have about it. “

A pair of deer enjoy a grassy meal near the College Eight dorms after dark in June 2014 on the UC Santa Cruz campus. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel file)


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