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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Aggie House serves students facing housing insecurity

The organization creates a network of staff, volunteers and students working to provide housing for Davis students

By ANNE SALTEL — features@theaggie.org

Housing insecurity as a systemic problem impacts all communities — including the UC Davis community. Aggie House, a student-led shelter that provides housing for students experiencing homelessness, is working to combat this problem. 

Aggie House provides residents with resources using a four-pronged approach; they offer shelter, food, case management and community. Students at Aggie House get a place to sleep, have breakfast and dinner, receive aid in finding long-term housing and other targeted assistance — and a community within the house. Amrit Chauhan, a fourth-year psychology major and the publicity director of Aggie House, said that helping fulfill these community needs is essential and empowering.

“Right now, almost one in five UC Davis students are experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness, or they [will have] at one point in their time at UC Davis,” Chauhan said. “It’s crazy to think about how students have to go through that on top of academic stress or maybe stress from their family and a pandemic. I think this was a perfect time to remind people that […] there’s opportunities at Davis where you can get help.”

Aggie House’s staff is made up of student volunteers and a student-led board of directors. The board oversees the organization while volunteers spend time in the house keeping the space clean, cooking dinner for residents and hanging out with them. Fourth-year human biology major and Aggie House staff manager Hannah Jenevein explained that these activities are crucial to the residents’ safety and success. 

“There’s an aspect to running a safe space and making sure that all of the members in the house as well as volunteers are keeping this basic level of mutual respect,” Jenevein said. “The volunteers sort of act as the third-party mediator if there is roommate disagreement in any way.”

Because of the crucial role volunteers play in running the physical house and creating a welcoming environment, volunteers must be trained in mediation, CPR and diversity training.  Fifth-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Cesar Trejo said that strong personal values and humility are also essential when hiring Aggie House volunteers. 

“We really seek passionate people,” Trejo said. “[…] We need people to understand that we are no better than the residents we are serving. The thing is, any student, any individual can easily fall under housing insecurities if a medical emergency were to happen. A lot of students, while they may not be facing housing insecurities, are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Because Aggie House was founded in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the development process happened remotely, and most of the back-end administrative work is still remote. Despite this physical barrier, which can make it challenging to form a community, Trejo still feels a connection and mutual passion among the volunteers and staff. 

“A lot of us share very similar goals and ambitions in terms of [fighting] housing insecurities or wanting to serve a marginalized community,” Trejo said.

Aggie House is partnered with Students 4 Students, a nonprofit that works with multiple other similar organizations on college campuses, like the Bruin Shelter at UCLA and the Trojan Shelter at the University of Southern California. Trejo hopes that Aggie House’s steps to serve students facing housing insecurity will create a community in which this issue is less widespread among students. 

“We strive to hopefully impact the systemic issue of housing insecurity in Davis and at the national level as well,” Trejo said. “That’s not something that we can really tackle by ourselves or right now because we’re just starting off, but we hope to be an evolving organization that can tackle this systemic issue with not only the people from Davis but people from anywhere around the country.”

Written by: Anne Saltel — features@theaggie.org


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