Four Trent and Fleming students have tried to access Peterborough’s youth emergency shelter this month, according to the shelter’s executive director – prompting fears about a potential spike in student homelessness as rents in the city soar.
Three of the students attend Fleming College and one attends Trent University, said Aimeé Le Lagadec, executive director of the YES Shelter for Youth and Families, by email.
“The lack of affordable housing is overall continuing to negatively impact all young people (homeless and precariously housed) in Peterborough,” Le Lagadec said.
She said those negative impacts are compounded for international students: three of the students who called looking for shelter beds this month were from outside of Canada.
“Imagine being homeless or precarious[ly housed], as well as not speaking English as your first language, or being brand new to the country?” she said.
Shelter staff had to turn away all but one of the students. In one case, it was because all shelter beds were full, Le Lagadec said. But two of the students were not admitted because it “was not clear at the time” what their connection to Peterborough was.
The shelter has a rule that clients must have ties to the Peterborough region to access shelter beds. Attending school in the city does count as a tie to the community, Le Lagadec said.
The students who were turned away were referred to Peterborough’s social services department, she said.
Ariel O’Neill, program integrity officer with Peterborough’s social services department, said staff are aware of the problem and plan to reach out to Trent and Fleming about how to “collectively” address the housing pressures facing students.
O’Neill said two of the students turned away from the shelter had secured a rental unit before moving to Peterborough at the beginning of September, but when they arrived they discovered that the landlord had rented their unit to someone else.
“What a sad introduction to the community for these kids,” she said.
Homelessness among post-secondary students an emerging problem in Ontario, city official says
O’Neill also raised concerns about a Reddit post last month by someone identifying as a Trent student who asked for advice about whether it was safe to sleep in a vehicle in Peterborough. The post garnered dozens of responses.
“I’m moving to Peterborough for uni and have sent around 40 applications to rent a room. Most either don’t reply or end up being a scam,” the student wrote. “The time I have left to find a place is worryingly close. I’ve thought about staying in a car or minivan until I find a proper place.”
After many commenters warned about the dangers of sleeping in a vehicle during a Peterborough winter, the person edited the post to say, “it seems living in a vehicle, in the winter, isn’t viable.”
Although it’s not clear how widespread the problem is in Peterborough, O’Neill said other Ontario cities are seeing an “emergence” of homelessness among college and university students.
Roughly 13 percent of residents at one youth shelter in Toronto were post-secondary students in 2019, and that figure has only risen since, according to Bloomberg News.
“I feel like we’re really at a tipping point where homelessness is… being experienced potentially by sectors of society who historically haven’t had the issues of poverty and homelessness,” O’Neill said.
She said social services staff are now tracking how often Trent and Fleming students are turned away from local shelters.
Le Lagadec said college and university students experiencing homelessness is “unfortunately not a new or unique story.”
She said “delays in OSAP funding” and “lack of support from the post-secondary institutions” are to blame.
Shelter outreach staff “work tirelessly” to support youth, including students, who are forced to sleep outside by providing supplies such as food boxes, and advocating for more support from Trent and Fleming, she said.
Services in place to help students find housing, Trent, Fleming say
Fleming president Maureen Adamson said in an emailed statement that the college “actively works with all students, both international and domestic, to provide comprehensive housing support, before and after arrival to our region.”
Services offered by Fleming’s off-campus housing office include workshops on finding housing, “one-to-one personalized” sessions for students and a website with tips on searching for housing, she said. The college’s international departments also offer free hotel accommodations to incoming students for three nights.
“Fleming is proud to bring students from all over the world to the region, and plays an important part in providing safe and affordable accommodations,” Adamson said. If any student or organization “feels they do not have adequate support” from Fleming, Adamson encourages them to contact the off-campus housing office.
As for Trent, the university has not been notified of any students trying to access the YES shelter this month, according to Jen Coulter, director of student housing and residence life.
If the university learns of a student accessing emergency shelter, “our student housing team would connect with the student to ensure that they have access to appropriate supports offered through the university,” she said in an emailed statement.
The university’s student housing team provides “wraparound supports and services” for students living both on- and off-campus, including resources on how to find housing, “landlord support, residential and tenancy support” and “roommate mediation,” she said. It also connects students with Canada HomeShare, a program that matches students in need of housing with older adults with extra space in their homes.
Trent sociology professor Naomi Nichols studies youth homelessness and housing issues. She said the university needs to do a better job of informing students about how tight and expensive Peterborough’s rental market is before they move here.
“The average price of a one-bedroom in Peterborough right now is creeping up towards $1,600 a month. That is fundamentally prohibitive for every student,” said Nichols, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice. “I do think that it is the ethical position on the part of all universities to be clear about that type of information… we just need to be more honest, particularly for international students who won’t know the context they’re walking into.”
Trent welcomes largest freshmen cohort ever
Trent welcomed its largest incoming class ever this month, at a time when rents are sky high and the city’s apartment vacancy rate was the lowest in Ontario last year, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The number of full-time undergraduate students who accepted offers to attend Trent for the fall semester rose 16.5 percent compared to fall 2021, according to figures released by the Ontario University Application Centre last week. In raw numbers, 2,854 students accepted offers to Trent by September 7, compared to 2,449 last year.
Current enrolment figures for Fleming have not been made public.
With Trent’s enrolment on the rise, students are worried that the housing situation is only going to get worse, according to Jennah Jones, a second year Indigenous Studies student.
“People are really stressed about next year for finding housing,” Jones said. “They’re predicting that, just with the number of students that were admitted this year, next year there might possibly be more first-year students that are admitted, which is going to make the housing shortage even more of a problem.”
Jones suggested the university should curb enrolment growth until it can build more on-campus housing.
“I think that they should only admit as many students as they can house and as many students as they can take care of,” Jone said.
Trent announced a 10-year housing strategy in February 2019 that calls for the construction of 700 new residence beds, in order to meet growing demand for on-campus housing and “respond to housing pressures” in Peterborough.
Those plans were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the university’s website. But late last month, Trent put out a request for proposals to build a new college residence on Symons Campus that is scheduled to open in 2027. The request for proposals also calls for a major renovation of Otonabee College to boost the number of beds from 387 to between 400 and 600 and create accessible residence rooms. Otonabee College would close for two years starting in spring 2027 while renovations are completed.
The university has long promised a residence bed to every incoming first-year student who meets its application deadline. Coulter said the institution has fulfilled that commitment every year to date, including this year.
Trent has been “able to meet the housing needs of our students both on and off-campus,” thanks to “multi-year strategic occupancy management planning,” she said.
With new residence construction at Trent still years away and more students flocking to Peterborough, other residents are feeling squeezed out of the rental market, according to Annie Hedden, program manager at the Housing Resource Centre.
“It creates competition, specifically for people with lower incomes,” she said.