SGA helps STAR expand crisis housing for students

Members of WiMSE and SGA have been helping to expand, clean and furnish new crisis housing. // Photo courtesy of Grace Swift

Tech has recently expanded its crisis housing program for students, which is one of four of the programs now a part of the Students’ Temporary Assistance and Resources (STAR) Services department.

The Technique talked about this program with Grace Swift, vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and fourth-year EIA. Swift told the Technique more about STAR and how the program has been implemented to help students on campus.

The STAR Services department is a network of programs which helps provide students with the resources necessary to be successful at Tech. 

The programs that STAR provides for students besides the crisis housing program include the Campus Closet, Klemis Kitchen and the Dean Griffin Hip Pocket Fund. Steve Fazenbaker is the program director of Student Life at Tech, and oversees the STAR Services program. 

The main goal of the crisis housing program is to help serve Tech students who become unexpectedly displaced or put under financial stress. The program aims to provide temporary housing. 

Swift told the Technique that “students can go into crisis housing for any reason — mold in their dorms, a domestic violence dispute, feeling unsafe due to their identity, a natural disaster like a flood, unexpectedly losing their housing due to financial reasons and other reasons.” On campus right now, crisis housing has around eight beds on West Campus which are reserved for people who need to seek this program. 

Swift explained that the number of beds available fluctuates due to the number of empty dorms on campus, but there is always a minimum of eight beds which alumni have donated to specifically help aid those in need of the crisis housing program. 

Swift told the Technique that the program has been very effective from the student body perspective.

“Dr. Fazenbaker has been incredibly responsive whenever somebody fills out the crisis housing petition, and people have been able to get housing the night they submit the form if that is what they need,” Swift said. 

SGA has been able to help the crisis housing program to learn about what areas of the program can be improved upon through meeting with students who have been through the program.

Swift said that SGA has been able to gain valuable insight about small changes that can be added to provide students in the program with some additional resources. 

The changes recommended by students who participated in the program were to provide residents with linens and toiletries, as these are resources which make a significant impact in improving students’ overall experience. The students who are participating in the crisis housing program are also able to be put in contact with Klemis Kitchen, which provides students in need with a reliable food source. 

According to Swift, students who were able to gain the support of STAR through this program said that Fazenbaker was “such a great help and amazing resource during a time of crisis in their lives, and they are incredibly grateful for his generosity.” Additionally, crisis housing by STAR is very flexible with students who are using it. According to Swift, past students using the program have said that they do not feel any pressure to leave within a certain number of days. 

When Swift was shown around the crisis housing program space by Fazenbaker, she was able to gain insight on the organizations which have been able to contribute and help with the program. 

She was able to meet volunteers who were helping with the space from the organization Women in Material Science and Engineering (WiMSE) on campus. The volunteers from WiMSE were using “power tools to take out shelves, clean up the space and make the rooms suitable for becoming bedrooms,” according to Swift. 

SGA also has a new committee called the Student Needs Committee, which was created to address housing insecurity, food insecurity, financial insecurity and any other barriers to students’ education. The chair of the committee is Harrison Baro, second-year ENVE, who has been an integral part of the process helping to facilitate the crisis housing initiative. The most important learning process for the program’s success thus far, according to Swift, has been that it is important for the student body at Tech to know about STAR Services. It is critical to continue to promote the programs which STAR Services is able to provide for students on campus.

There has been an increasing number of requests each year for the crisis housing program, and while no one has had to be turned away yet, it is important that STAR continue to expand so that they are able to continue to facilitate and help all students who come to them. In this past academic year, STAR received double the number of requests they had received in the previous academic school year. This increase in requests means it has been important to continue STAR as it is able to provide the resources necessary to help aid the success of students at Tech.  

There has also been a positive outpour of support from the Atlanta community to help provide housing as an extension to Tech’s crisis housing program from places like the Saint Mark United Methodist Church of Atlanta, which has offered four rooms in their basement level to be used by students in need.

Currently, these rooms at Saint Mark United need to be refitted into bedrooms, cleaned, painted and furnished. Swift explained that Tech set aside a budget for STAR to use to be able to fund the refitting, and SGA has worked with STAR to order furniture and make the space comfortable. 

“SGA also wants to make the spaces feel cheerful so people don’t feel saddened by the plain walls, so we put out a call to student artists to see if anybody is interested in painting a mural on the walls,” Swift said.

Swift has been impressed with the amount of student support for this initiative. People who want to be able to help have reached out to aid in painting the walls, building furniture and making the rooms ready for the program. The program showcases the willingness the student body has to help their peers succeed at Tech.