At one point during my time in college, I had to live in emergency dorm housing, also known as transitional dorms. The reasons why I was living there are not important, but I was nervous at first because I didn’t know anything about college emergency housing. In the semesters following my experience in emergency dorm housing, several of my friends have spent nights or weeks in emergency housing, and I’ve been able to share lots of tips with them and even come visit. Here are my tips for living in transitional housing or emergency dorm housing in college.
What is emergency dorm housing or transitional housing?
Emergency college housing, sometimes referred to as transitional housing, are on-campus rooms set aside for students who live on campus and have to evacuate their dorm room for some reason. The amount of students that live in a single emergency dorm depends on the circumstances of the evacuation and if the person has a single room. Most rooms have their own bathroom and are in a secluded area of the building, and emergency dorm housing locations are not publicly listed anywhere except within housing.
Some examples of reasons someone may live in emergency dorm housing include:
- Power outage
- Infectious disease outbreak
- Domestic violence/assault
- Fear for safety or wellbeing
- Police investigation
How to request emergency housing
If you are in a situation where you need emergency housing and you live on campus, you can make a request to spend the night in emergency housing to a few different staff members on campus, depending on the circumstances. In some circumstances, the move to emergency housing may not be optional.
Staff members that can assist with emergency housing requests include:
- Resident directors
- Housing staff
- Campus security
- Case managers
Making the request is as simple as saying or writing that you would like to be moved into emergency housing and listing the circumstances as to why. In my situation, I was in the emergency dorm housing within two hours, though I was lucky my emergency dorm was within walking distance of my previous dorm. For another one of my friends, they were in emergency housing within four hours.
Sometimes, students will have time to pack before evacuating their dorm to go to emergency housing, though there are some other times when this will not be possible or someone else will be doing the packing. I have an entire post about how to evacuate a dorm, which can be used as a checklist if someone else has to pack.
Set up your bed first
Once you arrive in your new emergency dorm, I recommend setting up your bed first, as whatever circumstances that led to the evacuation were likely exhausting. My friend happened to live close to my new dorm so they came to help me make my bed and get everything set up since my muscles were so tired. If needed, you might need to contact housing to get access to laundry facilities in case you need to wash your bedding.
If needed, request alternative lighting
So this wasn’t the case for me, but one of my friends is extremely sensitive to the overhead dorm lighting, and the lighting in their previous room had to be left behind in the evacuation. We ended up setting up lanterns around their room so they would have enough light, though I’m not quite sure where they got the lanterns. For a different friend, they had a staff member go back to their previous dorm and get their lamps, since they would be in emergency dorm housing for a longer period of time.
Put everything you can away
One of the things that helped me feel more relaxed in my emergency dorm was to have everything put away like it had been in my dorm. This helped me establish a sense of normalcy so that it didn’t feel like I was in a jail or on the run. Even though this was only a temporary dorm, I wanted to be able to concentrate and not think too much about what had happened to get me in this situation, and this was a great way to do so.
Don’t disclose your location publicly
Remember how I mentioned the dorms are unmarked? For safety reasons, students are encouraged not to publicly mention their location or room number. In my case, friends were allowed to visit my room, but if someone asked where I lived, I would give very vague answers or decline to answer. If for some reason I wanted to talk about my dorm in public, I gave it a realistic sounding codename that sounded like a building on campus.
Some answers I gave people who asked where I lived include:
- The name of the area of campus I lived in (i.e by the student center)
- Simply stating I lived on campus
- A silly answer- some of my most common ones included that I lived in a swamp, a pineapple under the sea, or on the moon
Stay in contact with housing if you can
For some students, a stay in emergency dorm housing is very short and they can return to their dorms when told it is safe to do so. For other students, they may not return to their former dorm and instead request a housing change. I recommend staying in contact with housing through this process so that you can get updates on what is going on.
Continue going to classes as normal
As soon as possible, continue going to classes as normal and resume your normal schedule. In the case of several of my friends, their professors were informed of the fact they were evacuated from their dorms and may need extra time on assignments. This is especially beneficial for involuntary evacuations.
While I do not look back on my time in emergency dorm housing as a particularly happy or exciting college experience, I am immensely grateful that I had a safe place to stay during a chaotic event and that this option was available to me. While I hope that no student needs to read this post, I hope that these tips are helpful for those who are in emergency dorm housing just like I was.