My family was evicted from our Oakland apartment in November of 2018. Since then, I've stayed in motels, on church floors, in homeless shelters and dorm rooms. And yet, I consider myself lucky. I've never had to sleep on a sidewalk or in a park. On my worst days, I was able to get breakfast and dinner at a shelter.
I'm also lucky because I was able to go to Humboldt State University and stay in a dorm. But it's incredibly unfair that Cal Poly Humboldt is denying this opportunity to other homeless students, and claims these students "choose to be homeless." They are homeless because the university charges too much for substandard housing drenched in mold and bacteria.
A new housing advocacy group formed last week. Originally called "Cal Poly Homeless," it changed its name to "Humboldt Equitable Student Housing Alliance," HESHA for short. It consists mostly of current students who will not be able to get on-campus housing next year due to a new school policy leaving only 600 beds reserved for returning students, who will have to compete with new transfers. CPH has a deal with three motels to house students in the coming years, raising questions about transportation to morning classes and late-night jobs.
Personally, I have qualms about HESHA. Is it sustainable long-term? Does it listen to students who are already homeless and do not have family homes to go to? It is only a week old, so I do not want to pass judgment, but I have seen dedicated students working to make a bigger impact, to connect with incoming freshmen and the larger Arcata community. HESHA members, meanwhile, spend hours researching similar situations in Santa Barbara and New London.
These efforts are resulting in some progress. CPH announced it will give refunds to anyone who decides to leave campus mid-year, and will allow continuing students to compete with transfers for those 600 on-campus beds. HESHA has shrunk in size from the original lounge-packing group, with many members presumably pacified by the minimal action from Housing. But this still leaves the issue of over enrolling freshmen.
Thirteen-thousand-five-hundred-and-eighty-three freshmen have been admitted for the coming year, but most have not yet confirmed whether they will attend. University enrollment tends to range from 14 to 18 percent of admitted students, but it's unclear how the Cal Poly distinction and housing controversy will affect next year's numbers. Cal Poly Humboldt is projecting 3,469 new students to fill a total of 2,069 beds.
The lack of housing is a problem but the available rooms have problems of their own. It is difficult to track the number of rooms with mold because the school does not send qualified inspectors. Yet, everyone on campus complains about the mold. The mold is especially bad in Campus Apartments, which was originally a privately owned apartment building bought by HSU to temporarily house students. It is still standing decades later despite the complaints going back to at least the 1970s.
It is currently college tour season, with constant floods of incoming freshmen walking through campus on guided visits. More than usual, it's triggering my fight-or-flight to sprint past them in order to get to class. They walk about as if they own the place, but I overhear mutterings of uncertainty and passed by whiteboards filled with their questions about housing. I walk by chalk sidewalk scribblings by HESHA members, with slogans like "No housing, no Humboldt" and "Housing is a human right." The ones stating, "Cal Poly Profit," however, have been hosed down by maintenance workers to state only "Cal Poly."
Gee, I wonder why they did that.
Dobby Morse (they/them) is a journalism senior at Cal Poly Humboldt. Their work has been published in Osprey Magazine and Lumberjack News.