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Students Scramble to Find Last-Minute Housing After Being Displaced By Coronavirus Measures

Students scramble to move out and find housing after Harvard College announced they must vacate their dorms by Sunday afternoon.
Students scramble to move out and find housing after Harvard College announced they must vacate their dorms by Sunday afternoon. By Pei Chao Zhuo
By Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writer

Many undergraduates are scrambling to find last-minute housing arrangements after Harvard’s announcement that students must vacate their dorms by Sunday to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in an email Tuesday morning that all Harvard courses will move to remote instruction beginning March 23 as a result of a growing global coronavirus pandemic. Harvard has also asked undergraduates not to return from spring break.

But for some students, returning home can be a dangerous option.

Joseph Winters ’20, who hails from Washington state, said he believes going home would put him at greater risk of contracting coronavirus due to the disease’s prevalence there. As of Wednesday evening, the state had 267 confirmed cases of the virus, the highest tally in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

“My parents weren't sure that they felt comfortable with the option of me going home, given that the number of coronavirus cases in Washington is greater than in Massachusetts,” he said. “It doesn't feel like it makes sense to send you from where you are back here to this place of relatively greater risk.”

Another student, who requested anonymity because of safety concerns, said an unsafe living situation prevents him from returning home.

“Normally Harvard's super accommodating and honestly does a really good job handling my situation,” he said. “But this whole COVID thing has kind of flipped that.”

The College has solicited student petitions to stay on campus, though administrators have said they will grant exceptions sparingly. It is unclear which students will be permitted to remain, though Khurana wrote in his email that students should consult their resident dean for more information if they hail from a country with a Level 3 travel warning from the CDC or one subject to a federal government travel ban.

The unnamed student said he has yet to learn whether or not the College will accept his case to remain on campus. While the original email announcement left students with five days to make plans, he said the uncertainty has left him with even less time by delaying him from making other housing arrangements.

“This isn't something where I can wait a while to get these answers. This is in four days. I will not have a place to live,” he said.

Many undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni have taken ad hoc measures to financially support their fellow students who are unable to return home.

More than 100 undergraduates signed up to provide housing on a spreadsheet that connects students seeking housing and those with available beds. Graduate students at the Harvard Kennedy School and others have also created their own spreadsheets listing people who have available living and storage space.

The Phillips Brooks House Association has created a form where people can volunteer to host students unable to make alternative arrangements or return home or wish to stay on campus to keep PBHA’s Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y youth homeless shelter open. Primus — a student group for first-generation, low-income students at the College — created a similar form for students.

First Generation Harvard Alumni has also been soliciting donations to cover or subsidize the costs of students’ airfare, alternative housing, and storage, and to offset the impact of lost employment for students with term-time jobs.

“It is an unprecedented time on campus in light of recent news that Harvard College is canceling in-person classes and requiring students to leave campus in less than a week,” the group’s GoFundMe page reads. “While this transition is beneficial to the health and well-being of students, it is causing extreme financial stress for our students to manage in such a short period of time.”

Individual students have also been crowdfunding financial aid by connecting students with donors who can fund recipients’ costs via Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, and other mobile payment services.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at amanda.su@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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CollegeStudent LifeCollege AdministrationCollege LifeHealthFinancial AidCoronavirus