By Jolene Darensbourg
DAVIS – The co-founders of Aggie House, a student-led transitional housing shelter, are promoting advocacy and awareness toward student housing insecurities within the Davis community as 7 percent of students annually experience homelessness and 18 percent experience housing insecurity.
Allie O’Brien, a third-year majoring in political science and sociology, works with the ASUCD and is the chief of staff, where she runs a housing task force giving her experience for her future goals to hopefully work in a non-profit organization.
Katie Shen is a genetics and genomics major, also a third-year, and she is a part of the HOPE at Davis organization, where they work with the homeless population in the Davis community, which inspired her to take action against the housing crisis in the Davis community.
The final co-director, Ashley Lo, is a third-year student studying economics and political science and also works in ASUCD in the executive office as the student advocate. There, she addresses basic needs, which drew her to the housing issue in Davis, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking inspiration from the UCLA Bruins Shelter and the USC Trojan Shelter, the leaders and founders of those two shelters have helped to guide the co-directors of Aggie House.
The founders and the presidents of the Bruins Shelter and the Trojan Shelter have been kind enough to take the time to talk to them all through Zoom and discuss the steps they should take to run a successful shelter.
The organization that they partnered with is the CA House, located on Russell Boulevard, run by the Cal Aggie Christian Association. Although they are religiously affiliated, Aggie House itself is not and students do not have to have any religious beliefs to be a part of Aggie House.
The shelter itself plans to be open daily, opening on the weekends all day and is also currently recruiting 60 to 70 volunteers to help assist in their operations and behind the scenes work. These volunteers will serve as shelter staff and will help with the developing Aggie House.
The facility will be a rented-out townhouse that will have six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a washer and dryer unit, a kitchen space and a living room.
One of the bedrooms will be an office and a sleeping space for the volunteers when they are there, and two beds will occupy each room.
There will be a max of 10 students at a time and can stay there for up to one quarter, and there will be a minimum of 40 students per year, but they do expect there to be more because they will be trying to transition them out on a rolling basis throughout the quarter in order to find them homes as fast as possible.
The process they will follow in order to help students find housing is followed by a four-pronged model that centers around basic needs, such as shelter, food, case management and community.
The idea of Aggie House is to have graduate students who work within the school’s public policies and social work help students on an individual basis to access help.
Aggie House is a place where students can eat and sleep comfortably, while also having case managers who can be medical insurance managers, helping students find medical resources and health insurance.
The social case managers will also help them access academic and health services to find the best accommodations for their residents.
The resident process will consist of three steps that will start off with applications followed by an interview by the case management team, and from there, the students will be able to take up residence at the facility until they find a secure place to live.
“Our goal is to do a holistic assessment of their needs, and we want to give the folks with the most need first priority to Aggie House. We consider things like housing insecurity and food insecurity along with how long they need to stay if they are experiencing anything like domestic violence that they need to get away from,” O’Brien said.
As the workers strive to find housing security for students, they will keep a waitlist in order to keep track of students so they can cycle in new students after one leaves.
Trying to get this project started during the pandemic got a little difficult with communication, the logistical aspects and even a little skepticism.
“Doing everything virtually on Zoom can be a little hard keeping up with all the communication. In the beginning, we were just trying to find people who would listen to us and listen to our ideas. The first item on our list was to find a facility that would host our shelter, so reaching out to all the different congregations and places that could be utilized in Davis was difficult,” Shen said.
O’Brien added that COVID-19 significantly pushed back the reasonable start date since it is very hard to have congregate shelters during this time.
Even though there are other programs that help students who are unhoused into hotel rooms where they can be isolated, having a townhouse with five rooms occupying 10 students at a time is not very feasible.
COVID-19 is primarily the main reason as to why their intended start date will be in the fall later on this year, with the hopes that the undergraduate population will be vaccinated.
While the pandemic has enhanced the housing crisis – since not all students can afford to pay their rent or they travel to be with family – it makes it very difficult to open shelters.
In preparation for the fall, if undergraduate students can get vaccinations, Lo mentioned, “A part of our planning process has been about how we still want to take every precaution necessary and go above and beyond to keep the residents safe. Even if it is 10 individuals, it is still significant, and we plan to follow the guidelines of operations like the residence halls forcing us to think about what are the necessary procedures we need to take in order to make sure that our volunteers and our residents are safe.”
Jolene Darensbourg is currently a third-year student from Hemet, California. She is majoring in English and History while minoring in Professional Writing.
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