9-month halls provide partial solution to home insecurity

<p>The Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard are one of the nine-month contracted halls at the University that are open year-round apart from summer break. New Gibbons and Tinsley are among some of the other residence halls. DANIEL MORREALE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER</p>

The Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard are one of the nine-month contracted halls at the University that are open year-round apart from summer break. New Gibbons and Tinsley are among some of the other residence halls. DANIEL MORREALE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As many college students across the country make plans for the upcoming spring break, it is easy to forget that breaks from school often prove to be anxiety-inducing and stressful for a sizeable portion of the student body. Many students lack secure housing outside of their on-campus residences and can find themselves scrambling for a living space during breaks.

A number of students attend school while homeless, according to a study released in February of 2015 by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The study concluded that more than 56,000 college students indicated they were homeless on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2013. That figure almost certainly underestimates the true total, according to the study. 

Rutgers provides on-campus housing to an average of 16,000 students at any given time, encompassing a wide range of economic backgrounds, said Dan Morrison, the executive director of Residence Life. For students that rely on Rutgers as their sole housing provider during the school year, residence hall closings during extended breaks can significantly impact their well-being. 

Why, then, do some residence halls remain open while others close their doors during breaks? The answer boils down to the availability of certain utilities.

“Halls that are open during all breaks (but summer) are called nine-month halls. These are locations that have unit-kitchens, as residents here do not need to rely on dining halls for meals. These are on each campus,” Morrison said.

Students that depend upon on-campus housing who are fortunate enough to live in a residence hall with one of these kitchens still face the issue of food insecurity. Dining services close over breaks, leaving many students with the added cost of a grocery bill on top of room and board. 

Rutgers has made significant strides in addressing this issue, as evidenced by the recently established Rutgers Student Food Pantry, located at 39 Union St., which opened its doors in Fall 2016. The pantry remains open during spring break and winter session to serve all Rutgers students, according to a representative from the Student Food Pantry.

“There is growing evidence that food insecurity among students is a problem on college campuses around the country, and it is something that is increasingly encountered at Rutgers University. As a result, Rutgers is continuing its work in this area, while also expanding its efforts,” according to the Student Food Pantry website.

For students who live in residence halls that do close during breaks, securing a place to stay on campus becomes the primary concern. For many, the solution is to temporarily move in with friends. But, there are several students who are left to fend for themselves. Rutgers provides an avenue through which students can request assistance in these cases.

“First, we hope that these students will know this at room selection time, and opt for one of our nine-month halls. If this need is not anticipated, we ask students to request their break housing via the University’s Residence Life website. We start the year mostly full, but we do get open rooms throughout fall and spring semesters. Also, we hold a few rooms in these nine-month halls for emergencies and ADA needs, which may not materialize. It is into these spaces we place students who request break housing,” Morrison said.

New Gibbons, Tinsley and the Sojourner Truth Apartments are all nine-month contracted halls that are open year-round apart from summer break. A complete list of these halls can be found on the Residence Life Website. 

The availability of other on-campus resources varies depending on the time of year. Some resources, such as University Emergency Services, remain available year-round.

Morrison said that during the Thanksgiving break, nothing is operating but Emergency Services and the Residence Life function in these nine-month halls. Winter break has closings in phases: Dining Services closes after the last exam. Libraries, Recreation and many offices are open until the school is fully closed for a week, which is usually the week of Christmas and New Year’s Day. During spring break, Dining Services is closed but most other offices and departments are open.

With spring break beginning next week, students who plan on staying on campus will retain access to pharmacies and other aspects of health services as well. Students are encouraged to visit the Rutgers Health website for more information on the availability of services based on their own individual needs. 

Spring break officially begins on March 10, with Dining Services closing at 6 p.m. and residence halls at 7 p.m. on March 9. Residence halls will reopen at 9 a.m. and Dining Services at 4 p.m. when spring break officially ends on March 18.

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