University students experiencing homelessness as B.C. housing crunch worsens

B.C. university students say they’re struggling to find housing. It’s an ongoing issue, but one student leader at UBC says it’s starting to affect their grades and mental health. Kier Junos has the story.

We’re less than a month into school being back in session and we’re learning B.C.’s ongoing housing woes are going from bad to worse. This time, university students are taking the brunt of it.

This has been an ongoing problem but it’s starting to deeply impact post-secondary students, says Kamil Kanji, vice-president of academic and university affairs at the Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia.

“This year we’ve seen about 57 per cent of students having experienced housing financial hardship. It’s something we see [is] quite rampant,” explained Kanji.

He says there are a lot of students who are choosing to remain at home to save money and grind through the long commute to class.

“We’ve seen almost one-in-10 students [lacking] regular and adequate nighttime residence and experiencing some level of homelessness over the last year.”

Kanji says the increasing costs, not just related to housing but overall, are affecting the grades and mental health of students.

“Students begin having to choose between whether they can eat a meal one day, or pay for tuition, or go to class, or pay rent. It is not a sustainable method,” he said while pushing both the university and the B.C. government to come up with a solution.

He says on-campus housing prices range from $1,500 to $4,500, depending on how many roommates someone lives with.

“Sometimes even in a house where you’re sharing with five or six people, you’re ending up paying $2,000,” he explained.

“It’s not affordable. It’s not reasonable for students who are trying to make ends meet, who don’t have the capacity to work full-time because they also need to be studying.

“Off-campus housing is very important in the sense that you might be able to find it slightly more affordable to you in certain locations.”

Kanji says some students are also considering taking a year or two off to save money to pay for housing.

“Students are almost being forced to access… other forms of hybrid education because they simply cannot afford to live on campus and because their commutes would be anywhere between from two to three hours and that’s just not something that is reasonable.”

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The issues outlined at UBC are being echoed at Simon Fraser University.

Liam Feng is the president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, and he described the situation as dire.

“Housing prices have been spiking a little, but around Simon Fraser University, the quality hasn’t really improved that much. Students are just trying to get by.”

He says this is challenging for local students, but especially for international students who are stuck on long wait lists.

“Another method that close friends of mine are using, is nobody really books a suite for one person anymore. They usually collaborate with two or three, sometimes four other people — they’ll book one large suite, and they divide the rooms that way because it’s quite difficult for one person.”

Feng says the bottom line is housing on or off campus is too expensive.

“Generally, around the campus, I would say it would be about $2,000 a month per person for one semester.”

He echoes Kanji’s comments of students wanting the option of remote learning. “Hybrid-learning classrooms are always something students advocate for. I’m one of them.”

Meanwhile, Union Gospel Mission (UGM) says more students have been using its services in Vancouver.

“We’ve recently had some students who have, you know, started staying in our shelters because they haven’t been able to find affordable housing and with their work hours they’re not quite making enough money,” UGM spokesperson Nicole Mucci explained.

With files from Martin MacMahon, Kier Junos, and Hana Mae Nassar

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