The Students of Georgetown, Inc., the Georgetown University Student Association, the Georgetown Alumni Association, the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President contributed to the funding of a temporary house for students in unstable living situations for the upcoming winter break.
The initiative will provide 10 students a secure space to live and sleep throughout the winter holiday through the community marketplace Airbnb. This temporary housing is normally provided by direct funding from the Georgetown Scholarship Program, but student groups and administrative bodies stepped in to reallocate the GSP funding to other programs. The Corp donated $4,500 for the house while GUSA and GUASFCU both donated $500 each. Upon hearing about donations from student groups, GUAA contributed $1,000 along with the President’s Office, and the Provost’s Office donated $2,000.
GSP was founded in 2004 by the Office of Admissions to offer resources and community for students who receive scholarships and financial aid and first-generation college students to facilitate academic, extracurricular and social success at Georgetown. There are approximately 150 GSP-affiliated student in each class year at Georgetown and over 600 GSP alumni.
When an average of six to 12 students — regardless of their affiliation with GSP — requested a need for housing over winter break in the past, GSP contributed the funding necessary to ensure the needs of those students were met. This funding typically came from the GSP Necessity Fund, which consists of outside donations.
GSP then distributed grants to students in need and helped them obtain winter break accommodations. Those students did not have a dedicated house at which to stay , so they stayed at hotels or at the houses of fellow GSP students during winter break.
In September 2014, GSP Program Director Missy Foy (COL ’03) realized more should be done to ensure students with uncertain housing situations could be secure in the long term.
“I knew in our heart we weren’t doing enough,” Foy said. “We needed to do something more institutionalized and formal, less disorganized.”
Foy soon discovered Airbnb, a community marketplace allowing individuals to list and book personal accommodations. Foy saw Airbnb as a viable and cost-effective way to make sure students could have adequate accommodation and began using the service in 2014.
“The one we rent is in Woodley Park. It’s downtown, right near a metro, and for a lot of the students … the location is convenient. Students appreciate being placed all together,” Foy said.
While others advocated for students to live in dormitories during the break, Foy believed the short-term solution with Airbnb was more viable and conducive for both the students and the university.
“The benefit of Airbnb is that it is cheaper than a hotel and it provides all of the amenities,” Foy said. “And we’re going to push the administration to have two students stay in Harbin, one student stay in Village B, three students in Henle? That’s hardly ideal.”
Foy said The Corp’s Social Impact Chair and GSP member Harrison Williams (COL ’16) approached her during the summer. Williams heard of GSP helping fund student housing during winter break with its own funds and expressed a desire to involve The Corp.
“After seeing some of the things that [Foy] had to go through to receive funding for the program, I wanted to help out in any way that I could to make the process easier for the following year,” Williams wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I reached out to [Foy] and I told her that I really wanted The Corp to get involved in any way that we could to support this initiative.”
GUSA President Joseph Luther (COL ’16) said Foy and Williams approached him about funding, so he began to reach out and organize community groups to secure donations to alleviate much of the burden from GSP.
“We reached out to GUSA over the summer to talk about the house and other ways that we could help GSP’s mission,” Luther wrote in an email to The Hoya. “After a lot of discussion, we saw the best role GUSA could play would be to raise awareness and appeal to different offices for funding.”
Chief of Staff to the President’s Office Joe Ferrara said his office was happy to contribute after seeing student-led initiative on the issue.
“The President’s Office is always happy to partner with student groups and other administrative offices to advance important work across the university,” Ferrara wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We were happy to help with a financial contribution. We appreciate the positive initiative to address important needs in our community.”
Foy said that the alternative source of funding is noteworthy, as it allows GSP to allocate resources to other programs and as the initiative was student-led.
“Going from $10,000 to $3,000 makes a huge difference. There was a cobbled together solution last year, and the important thing this year was the student support behind it, which helped the administration see this as a student priority,” Foy wrote.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson praised the work of each group and said he looks forward to future discussion of the issue.
“I am pleased that students and administrators have come together to support this opportunity for students,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I know it meets a need, and am encouraged by the collaboration that has gone into this.”
While the funding and involvement of student groups and administrative bodies has drawn praise, many still see future challenges. Luther said housing students with Airbnb is effective in the short term, but that the university should consider more long-term solutions.
“Our main goal at the moment is to institutionalize the program so in years to come the funding isn’t so ad hoc,” Luther wrote. “There are plenty of hurdles students from low socioeconomic backgrounds face and while the winter house is a great step forward, there is still much work to be done.”
Williams said there is a necessity for greater attention in the community to students in need.
“As we encourage more dialogue around the topic of socioeconomic status on campus, we must also start to push tangible projects and initiatives that the Georgetown community should all take on together, rather than placing the onus entirely on the back of the Georgetown Scholarship Program and a few concerned students,” Williams said.
Going forward, GSP is continuing to look for a long-term, institutional solution for students seeking housing during both winter breaks and other long holiday breaks.
Foy said that an additional solution is to reach out to local D.C. hotels for accommodation, but stressed that the ideal solution would be for the university to establish a designated house for students in unstable situations to occupy.
“A variety of spaces could serve our students’ needs, including the [Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center],” Foy wrote. “But if I had a magic wand … my dream of dreams would be that the university dedicated space that is open for necessity type situations.”
GSP member Jonathan Ulmer (COL ’18) said Georgetown should be proud of the collective action of many community members to recognize the situation of low-income students.
“This is so important not only because of the people it helps, but because of the message it sends,” Ulmer said. “Having our community help low-income students is a great symbol of the level of care we wish to show for those who may face hard times. It really makes a difference when we tell students who face situations at home that they will have a place here if they need it.”