Homeless in a weird city

Boudewijn Otten 29 August, 2018

‘They tried to scam me, for sure’, Ignacy (19) says. ‘The woman I had contact with on Facebook, was unable to come and see me, because she was in Switzerland. But if I transferred the money to her account, she would send me the keys of the Groningen apartment. That was too weird. I didn’t do it.’ The Polish student enrolled at the bachelor programme International Communication at Hanze University. He came to Groningen with two of his Warsaw friends who he shares an airbnb-accommodation with. But next week the three will be without proper housing. ‘Sure, I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t expect to meet the likes of swindlers. The only things I can do is keep trying and stay positive.’

One thing is always the same: you have to pay first, otherwise they don’t do anything

Ignacy’s friend Philip (19), who has enrolled at the International Business Programme at the University of Groningen has a hard time keeping his spirits high. ‘It’s very stressful. Landlords and rent agencies tell you all sorts of different things. But one thing is always the same: you have to pay first, otherwise they don’t do anything.’ Ignacy and Philip are two of the about fifty students that have gathered at café De Minnaar (which means The Lover) in the evening of August 28. ROOD, the youth organization of the Dutch Socialist Party, called for this meeting. ‘RUG and Hanze get lots of European and government subsidies for international students’, this night’s chairman Bram says, ‘so they should take responsibility for a roof over your head. It is a shame. They want you to study here, you want you to study here, but they don’t even offer you a place to sleep. They leave you homeless in a weird city where you know nobody. Okay, there is a boat that you have to pay for a few thousand euros a month, and you can stay in a tent. A tent, 12 euro 50 a night. Why ask money for staying in a tent without a kitchen? It should be free.’

‘We were promised that thís year everything would be okay, but they gave the same guarantee the year before’

ROOD is eager to take action. ‘What can we do? Please let us know your ideas.’ A student says he once joined a successful action at a university in Paris. ‘We occupied the board room an did not leave before they arranged accommodations.’ Another student thinks they should sleep at the Academy Building. ‘We did something like that last year’, another ROOD member says. ‘We were promised that thís year everything would be okay. But they gave the same guarantee the year before.’ Perhaps squatting can be a solution. ‘Aren’t there any empty old office buildings in Groningen?’ Sure there are, Bram says, but squatting is forbidden by law.
Many students suggest the municipality to do something to end the shady businesses of landlords and rent agencies. ‘They try and try, but it’s very difficult, because slumlords are very shrewd. They always find a way to find loopholes in the rules and regulations, they just think of you as a bag of money.’ Later on, standing at the pavement outside De Minnaar student Future Planet Innovation Paulius from Lithuania gives an example of the way some Groningen slumlords take advantage of the current room shortages. ‘A rent agency offered me a room, only five minutes from Zernike Campus. It was eleven square metres. The rent was 600 euros a month. But these 600 turned out to be just the basic rent, I had to pay an extra 80 euros for gas and electricity. I’d rather sleep in one of those tents, I thought. By the way, I’ve heard next week prices of staying in the tents will drop.’