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  • Writer's pictureAfonso Ivens-Ferraz

In Groningen's emergency housing, students report unexpectedly positive experience

Over 100 international students are living in a temporary shelter in Groningen, where having a place to sleep is not the only thing on offer.

Anticipating a peak demand at the start of the academic year in September, Groningen’s municipality has arranged emergency housing to temporarily host (international) students without a home – a practice that has become commonplace in a persistent student housing crisis.

The emergency housing shelter at Plutolaan - available until October 16th - is one of Groningen's measures to deal with the dual problem of a growing international student population and the decrease in available housing, a problem well documented by the government.

At Plutolaan, a total of 120 beds have been reserved with an arrangement of two beds per room and, for the first time, students were able to sign-up before their arrival in the city.

Many students find the shelter’s facilities to be reasonable and to meet their basic needs.

Emergency housing building at Plutolaan © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

“You may not have a luxurious apartment but at the end of the day, you’re in college you know? It’s your first year, you meet a lot of people and you have fun” says Gonzalo, an 18 year old marketing student from Spain.

But Gonzalo and other students alike also point to an overlooked aspect of what this sort of community-living has to offer aside from immediate shelter - one which may play a significant role in student’s search for housing: networking.

Having no choice but to leave his current home in the coming weeks, Gonzalo – who himself was able to secure accommodation through friendships made at the shelter – stresses how valuable Plutolaan has been in building his local network.

“Obviously this is just short stay accommodation but you meet a lot of people who either know of something or someone - that makes it pretty easy to get a house I would say. Just make the most connections,” he adds.

Word of mouth is indeed a useful path to finding a home, says Tiara Ruidavet – Vice-chair of the Groningen Student Union (Gsb). However, Ruidavet explains that this is difficult without an established network to rely upon, which many newly arrived internationals do not have.

Student residents Gonzalo (left) and Robin (right) © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

In addition to these networking opportunities, some students claim that this housing arrangement has actually had a positive impact on their mental-health and wellbeing.

Robin – a Czech Economics student residing in the building - shares that when he first arrived at the shelter he was “a bit scared” by the idea of being alone, a sight that he and others claim to have witnessed in the local student community.

This all changed as he quickly began to make friends, he says.

“That’s what’s so good about these dorms, you basically have to socialize. It’s healthy”.

An official report made by the RIVM, Trimbos-instituut and GGD GHOR Nederland, published in 2021, suggests that over 51% of students in higher education experience symptoms of anxiety and depression while 80% report feeling lonely.

These issues are particularly acute amongst international students - as stated in the Dutch government’s National Action Plan for Student Accommodation - which highlights the multifaceted nature of the housing crisis affecting the student community at large, and international students specifically.

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