Helping Students Find a Home
By Grant Scott-Goforth
To help alleviate homelessness and housing insecurity among students, Humboldt State has enacted a number of efforts, including creating a new position that's the first position of its kind at the University and in the 23-campus California State University system.
Social work graduate student Chant'e Catt, who experienced homelessness when she transferred to HSU, was hired as an off-campus housing liaison to help students find homes and learn about housing rights, how to be a good tenant, and more. She has worked with about 600 students since HSU established the position in January 2018.
Creation of this role is one of several measures designed to address housing and food challenges for students. The University now provides short-term emergency housing in residence halls and emergency scholarships to help students facing homelessness afford rental deposits and other needs. HSU also offers services under the Oh SNAP! Student Food Programs.
HSU is also developing an innovative new housing education program designed to ease housing barriers for students and build a stronger connection between Humboldt County landlords and student tenants.
In a recent statewide study commissioned by the CSU Chancellor's Office, Social Work Professor Jennifer Maguire and CSU Long Beach Social Work Professor Rashida Crutchfield found troubling rates of housing insecurity among CSU students. At Humboldt State, 19 percent of students reported being housing insecure at least once in the last 12 months.
Catt, the housing liaison, was one of those students, and lived homeless for 16 weeks during her first semester at HSU, along with her young daughter, partner, and dog. Based on her experience, she co-founded the Homeless Student Advocate Alliance, a student club that advocated and supported student housing. As a result of the club's work, the housing liaison position was created and Catt was hired to fill the position.
In a report Catt prepared earlier this year for HSU, she identifies barriers students face, including: a shortage of affordable housing due to the local and student populations, marijuana grow houses, and vacation rentals; housing costs; racial inequality and discrimination faced by students of color; access to a co-signer; and the difficulty of touring and securing housing for students not currently in the area.
When someone reaches out, Catt begins by explaining the local housing market and unique difficulties students face. She also sends them an intake survey, which helps her understand their particular situation. Do they have pets? Do they have enough money for a deposit?
She'll then provide students a variety of resources depending on their needs: information on renter's rights, recommendations for lawyers on tenant issues, mentorship on applications, and advice on how to be a good tenant or a good roommate.
Catt also maintains a list of current housing availabilities. In her advocacy work and role at HSU, she's developed many contacts in the community, including landlords. “Community members tend to call me with a lot of resources,” she says.
Going one step further, Catt and others are helping to foster relationships between landlords, students, and community members with HSU's new Educated Landlord and Tenant Program (ELTP).
Under the ELTP, HSU students and landlords will take facilitated courses several times a month. With an emphasis on equity, courses will cover a range of topics such as how to be a good landlord and tenant, implicit bias, indigenous perspectives, emotional and service animals, and personal finance.
“The Educated Landlord and Tenant Program is a town-and-gown project that includes over 14 departments on campus, the City of Arcata and several collaborators who are coming together with hopes of relieving pressure on a complex issue that intersects with racial inequity, poverty, and other social challenges,” says Catt, who leads the program with the help of HSU Social Work graduate students Kaytlin Harris, Sonya Woody, and Ashley Bradshaw,
That collaboration showed in a November town hall meeting. The forum, geared toward landlords and property managers, gave participants a chance to discuss students' housing concerns and share their own perspectives and ideas.
The intention of the meeting wasn't to point fingers— it was to build stronger relationships. “The fact landlords participated was huge,” says Catt. “That tells us there's a need for open communication on both sides and that landlords are willing to listen to us.”
Community education is another key to the local housing shortage. HSU and College of the Redwoods hosted a community housing summit last year to build awareness and empathy, and to support existing programs and services. Equity Arcata, an effort of the University, City of Arcata, and local businesses to address equity and inclusion issues, is a hub for local stakeholders to prioritize affordable housing.
The University is pairing homeless awareness with an overall focus on student wellbeing, supported by student well-being ambassadors and an interactive online map to guide students toward mental and physical health and academic success. Students can also find guidance for signing up for various types of insurance, including Medi-Cal.