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 their temporary dorms. 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 or quarantine
- Domestic violence/assault
- Fear for safety or wellbeing
- Police investigation
In some places, there may be an entire building dedicated to students who need emergency/transitional housing, such as during a disease outbreak or building-wide evacuation. These dorm locations are typically publicly listed, though student names are not attached to individual rooms in the housing database.
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, the staff member I was working with strongly recommended that I be placed in emergency housing (I did not make the original request) and made a series of phone calls, and then I was in the emergency dorm housing within two hours. For another one of my friends, they were in emergency housing within four hours after contacting their resident director and stating the reasons they felt unsafe in their dorm.
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. In my case, I had less than 20 minutes to pack with the help of a staff member, though I was eventually able to go back later and/or have a staff member bring me items- when I did go back to my dorm, I was escorted by a staff member who grabbed the items from my room for me. I have an entire post about how to evacuate a dorm, which can be used as a checklist if someone else must 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.
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
- If I had to bring up my dorm name with friends or staff members, we created a realistic-sounding code name that we used that sounded like it could be a building on campus
Stay in contact with housing
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 will receive a housing change- in even more rare cases, the student will live in emergency housing for the rest of the year. I recommend staying in contact with housing through this process so that you can get updates on what is going on.
What if I lock myself out of my dorm?
I have an entire post linked below about what happens if a student gets locked out of their dorm, but for students living in emergency/transitional housing, this can be an even more tricky process. In my case, I would have to go to the neighborhood desk and state that I was living in emergency/transitional housing and give the building name/room number where I was living, and in some cases a senior staff member would have to escort me back to my dorm to ensure that I was actually living there. For students who feel uncomfortable saying where they live out loud, I recommend typing the information on a phone and holding it up in front of the neighborhood desk associate.
Continue going to classes as normal
Whenever possible, continue attending classes and resume normal activities as soon as possible, as this can be a great distraction from living in emergency/transitional housing. In my case, there was a letter sent out to all of my professors explaining that I had been placed in emergency housing and gave a brief description of the situation, and also asked that professors show some leniency with allowing me to turn in late work that had been due in the days following the evacuation/move into new housing. My friends’ professors received similar letters from the staff member that coordinated their evacuation- for the friend who evacuated due to a flood in their dorm, this letter came from their resident director, while a different friend who evacuated due to a police investigation in their dorm had a police liaison send a message.
Other tips for living in transitional/emergency housing in college
- If you can’t have people visit in person or don’t feel comfortable, make sure to set aside time for video chats or phone calls as being alone in transitional/emergency housing in college can be very isolating
- Hang up a small item on the wall such as a poster or jewelry display to give some sort of normalcy
- Meet with friends in a public space such as the library or dining hall when possible
- Make sure that at least one friend knows where you actually live in case of an emergency
- Ask to be added to the building’s mailing list so that you can get updates on construction work or other important information