Story at a glance

  • As public health officials emphasize the need for social distancing to curb the coronavirus outbreak, universities and colleges are responding.
  • Some schools are closing campuses altogether, giving students notice to vacate within weeks or even days.
  • Not all students can afford to travel home or have a place to go outside of campus.

Cancelled classes are usually cause for college students to celebrate. But for some being asked to vacate campus due to the novel coronavirus, it could mean they’re homeless. 

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States coincided with spring break for many universities and colleges around the country. As public health officials warn the spread of the virus will get worse, some schools have asked students not to return to campus. Other schools have gone as far as to ask students to move home for the rest of the semester. 

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But going home isn’t always that simple. Flights can be expensive for those whose families live farther away, especially when they are booked last-minute. At Harvard, students were told on March 10 that they had until that Sunday to vacate campus.


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“They've been evicted from their stability, they've been evicted from their homes, they’ve been evicted from their ability to live comfortably and safely,” Jordan H. Barton told the Harvard Crimson. “There's already enough concern, and now they're concerned about being able to get home and have stable housing and food.”

Low-income students often depend on the university for financial aid as well as both food and housing. In a 2019 study, more than half the college students surveyed were housing insecure in the last year, while 45 percent of them were food insecure in the last month. Another 17 percent were homeless. 

Harvard said in a statement the campus is remaining open and students who need to remain will receive instruction remotely and prepare for "severely limited on-campus activities and interactions." Boston College, which gave notice to students on March 11 to vacate by March 15, has said students who need to stay due to international travel restrictions, serious personal reasons or University obligations will have to get written permission from the Office of Residential Life to remain in University housing. But the college is making no promises, according to one student journalist on Twitter. 

Nearly half of all LGBTQ+ youth say their families make them feel bad for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some face mental and physical abuse at home, while others have been kicked out. In a 2017 study, 26 percent of homeless LGBTQ+ youth reported being forced out of their homes solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Amid the confusion, some groups are working to help students relocate. U-haul, which is the only company to rent to 18-year-olds and take third party payment, is offering special rates for truck and trailer rentals as well as self-storage options. 

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is assuring international students that they will not be penalized for taking multiple classes online, which is a violation of the student visa. 

In a statement to Roll Call, ICE said "[The Student and Exchange Visitor Program] recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis is fluid and rapidly changing. For that reason, SEVP is not requiring prior notice of procedural adaptations, leaving room for schools to comply with state or local health emergency declarations." 

Still, SEVP said they must be notified within 10 business days of any changes that would violate visa requirements. Those with workplace requirements are being told to seek alternative ways to maintain employment.


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Published on Mar 12, 2020