Graduate student sleeps in car after Calgary housing troubles

By Alejandro Melgar and Tiffany Goodwein

A graduate student from Edmonton says he turned to sleeping in his car after he was unable to find housing in Calgary.

Will, who is working on his master’s degree in public policy at the University of Calgary (UCalgary), previously told CityNews he was trying to secure housing for himself before the start of classes Monday.

Despite asking friends in the city for help, checking different apps, like Kijiji and Facebook, for listings, and looking into hotels, Will says he wasn’t able to find an affordable place to stay.

Will says he was eventually referred to the Calgary Drop-In Centre in the city’s southeast but was told that was full.

“The only option I had was to sleep in my car. I didn’t know what to do and where to sleep and where to stay,” he told CityNews.

“It was not a pleasant situation, I’ll tell you.”


Officers with Calgary police went up to him while he was sleeping in his car multiple times. At one point, Will says police accused him of taking drugs.

“I know, they were doing that for my safety, yes, but I was just expecting them to do what the first ones did, [where] they asked me my credentials, and they just told me about my safety, which I do appreciate,” Will said.

University of Calgary emergency housing

The university tells CityNews Will was “immediately” given shelter and support when he reached out for support.

UCalgary notes that emergency housing, which is fully funded for all students, is available for those in need. This includes shelter in hotel spaces and food, the university notes.

It’s unclear what information was available to Will about university housing or supports prior to him being given shelter.

Nicole Schmidt, the president of the UCalgary Students’ Union, says it has been difficult for new students to find a place to live, claiming there are 550 people, and counting, on the residence waitlist.

A representative from the university refutes this claim, saying the waitlist had only about 100 people on it. As of Tuesday morning, that list had 75 students — 28 graduate and 47 undergraduate — on it, UCalgary said.

“We anticipate this number will continue to decrease over the next couple weeks,” a statement to CityNews reads. “There has been one student who utilized the emergency housing program.”

Schmidt says the union had appealed to Calgary City Council for support and got help from SAIT Residence to house students. However, the agreement with SAIT recently ended as residence there has been filling up.

“One of the challenges that students are facing is that the University of Calgary residence is full for the first time ever. And Calgary is actually experiencing less than one per cent vacancy rate for housing. So students are really struggling to find a place to live for the fall semester,” Schmidt said.

“We’ve had some success there with connecting students with places to live. But overall, it has been a real challenge for students to find somewhere to live for the fall.”

Schmidt says the student union set up a board posting to connect students and landlords, adding the move has seen some success, though housing remains a challenge.

She adds the cost of tuition, increased fees for international students in their programs, and the added cost for student visas have added to difficulties students from outside Alberta are facing.

Schmidt says the toll of not finding any housing has affected students’ performance in class, and has made some second-guess their decision to attend school at all.

“The combined effect that the struggle to find housing with the tuition increases, it’s really taking a toll on sort of student’s ability to attend in person, but also to continue to pursue their studies,” Schmidt said.

Classes at the University of Calgary began on Monday for the fall semester.

Meanwhile, Will, in tears and choked up, told CityNews ahead of class Monday that all he could think about was his wellbeing.

“I was in class today, but I was just there physically, I was not there mentally. I’m kind of disturbed, both emotionally and mentally,” Will said.

“What if somebody just come in the street and do something? I mean, in a lot of cases people are being shot. People are being beaten up, and what if [someone just came] and attacked me? What will I do? So, right now, my safety is a priority.”

“And honestly, my studies are secondary right now, because I can just go and learn when I cannot have anywhere to stay.”

Editor’s note: CityNews has updated this story to include comment from the University of Calgary.

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