By Chante Sammering and Faith Kutsoma
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 10 of VARSITY News.
We’re all aware of the fact that homelessness exists in our own backyard. We see it everyday on main road in Rondebosch and other nearby places. But are we aware of the fact that it’s right under our noses? Has UCT created a veil to the reality that homelessness is an issue on campus?
Homelessness amongst university students is a common and growing crisis globally. 1 in 10 students are homeless in the US and SA. Aside from keeping up with the academic workload of pursuing full-time studies and working part-time (to pay off the hefty higher education fees), these students are also struggling to find a suitable place to sleep. Why is this?
“While students complain about how they hate living in their residences, I can only reminisce what sleeping on an actual bed feels like.”
There is a shortage of student accommodation at UCT and students simply cannot keep up with rising costs of private accommodation. Tuis* is a fifth-year student and explains that NSFAS only covers living costs for 10 months of the year . “For the last two years or so I had to crash on a friend’s couch during the holidays because I simply did not have the money to cover my living expenses for the remainder of the year. This has definitely affected my mental health.” Ikayha* is a third-year student, and shares that, “While students complain about how they hate living in their residences, I can only reminisce what sleeping on an actual bed feels like.”
Students are often caught between choosing housing and paying off student fees to avoid financial exclusion. Ikhaya* was denied NSFAS and explains that she did not have the documents to prove that she is parentless or that she cannot afford to pay for university. “I ended up working to pay for it myself, but soon could not keep up with my academics. I was academically excluded and am now at UNISA. I still work, but earn so little I can only afford my toiletries and food.” There is a multitude of invisible faces on campus who share the same circumstances as Ikhaya.
Ikayha* has had to adapt and establish a routine on campus to gain some kind of normality in order to complete her degree. “Campus is my home.” Ikayha* explains that even if statistics was gathered on student homeless, it would be an underestimation. “Many homeless students try to keep their situation a secret. With the word ‘homeless’, the automatic thought would be ‘living on the streets looking messy/dirty’, but the truth is that there is a hidden homelessness crisis at UCT [and] it’s hard to know exactly how many university students are homeless.”
“For most students it’s not knowing what you want to do after graduation, but for the homeless student it’s not knowing where your next meal will come from, or where you’ll sleep”
A picture of a multi-cultural group of students sharing a laugh on university recruitment brochures is an illusion that has been sold to many.Ikayha explains that“For most students it’s not knowing what you want to do after graduation, but for the homeless student it’s not knowing where your next meal will come from, or where you’ll sleep”. A typical university experience; networking, partying, and social events , [she] will not remember her university experience in that way.
There is no doubt that student homelessness is a real issue that often goes unnoticed. What does the UCT management have to say about student homelessness? Where has UCT been lacking and/or succeeding in assisting these students? UCT management is yet to respond to these questions.