Alycia Goodenough is an accounting major here at Portland State University—and they happen to be houseless. Now a resident of the PSU Landing at First United Methodist Church (FUMC), Goodenough started living in their car when attending PSU because they lived too far away from campus. When they were not at work or school, they were sleeping in their vehicle.
Unfortunately, the story of being a houseless student is not a unique one. Michelle Harris is an intern working with the PSU Landing at FUMC. They reported that they started working with houseless students at PSU after having a personal encounter with a houseless student.
“When I was working on campus a couple of years ago, I had a student tell me that they had nowhere to live,” Harris said. “They had just arrived on campus with no plan of where to live [and] no money for anything beyond their limited financial aid.”
That day had a significant impact on Harris. “I never wanted to not have a way to help a fellow student again,” Harris said. “Finding out that the Landing was here made me want to share it with everyone I know at PSU and help any student who needs housing.”
Portland State Vanguard had reported previously in Feb. 2021 that “PSU [had] partnered with [First United Methodist Church] to create the PSU Landing at FUMC, a shelter for PSU students facing houselessness or extreme housing insecurity.”
According to Scott Robison, “It was one student resident during our “soft” opening in the middle of Spring 2021. We then fully opened this summer, a few weeks before the start of Fall term. We now have 5 student residents.”
The shelter is an emergency shelter space with access to a cot for sleeping, a place to do laundry, private showers, internet access and light snacks seven nights a week. During the day, PSU provides two meals a day from Victor’s Dining Hall free of charge for students of the Landing.
The big question, then, is if it is enough. Houselessness in Portland has always been an issue, with an estimated 4,015 people experiencing houselessness in Multnomah County as of 2019. This number was projected to worsen due to the pandemic, with an estimated increase of 40-45% across the United States. Furthermore, according to an individual who works at the Landing, “Portland has never been as welcoming and inclusive a place as many of its more privileged residents like to imagine.”
Moreover, knowledge in particular about houseless students seems to dampen PSU’s efforts to help. According to a staff member, the Landing “had a bit of trouble in the past connecting with students who could really use the services we provide. Part of the problem is that one’s housing status is, understandably, not always something people want to let others know about.”
Goodenough confirmed this sentiment that students often do not disclose their houseless status, and many people are unaware that they are houseless in the first place.
“I do feel that there is more that could be done to help students who are experiencing houselessness,” Harris said. “PSU already has housing on campus they could use and designate a small portion for students who are having trouble finding housing. They could help get those students into student housing at discounted rates or no cost while also helping to guide them to the resources that can help them.”
When asked about setting aside some rooms on campus back in February, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Student Life Mike Walsh made it clear that it would be too much of a financial burden on the campus. However, PSU has space to house at least 2,200 students and, as of Fall 2020, only housed 838 students. That’s a significant amount of space that’s not being used.
Furthermore, Walsh previously told Vanguard that they hoped PSU would either partner with other organizations or find a way to make it work for houseless students on campus. However, according to Walsh, the Landing had not sought out other partnerships yet.
“We are still working to make this model work before we try to replicate it,” Walsh said. “It’s only now that we have students really using the resource.”
However, Walsh spoke of other individuals that can help students with houseless resources. “Our CARE Case Manager knows of off-campus resources and refers as needed,” he added. “We will also have a Basic Needs Navigator starting in January, and that person’s job will be to connect students to basic needs resources both on and off-campus.”
With current availability at the Landing, PSU is still hoping to connect and place students who need this resource. According to Walsh, the easiest way to inquire is for students to “refer themselves to our CARE program either using the CARE Referral form or by calling our office or emailing us at [email protected] to ask for an appointment with the CARE program.”
Walsh emphasized that the Landing wants to be as flexible as possible for students. “Rather than focusing on the requirements, we simply encourage students to reach out to the CARE program and have a conversation and then we can go from there,” he explained.
“The Landing is a great place and comfortable,” Goodenough said. “They could always use people who care to work there. Being houseless comes in many forms, and the best thing we can do is accept that person will get out of the situation if they want to and possibly offer avenues of support if known.”