With COVID-19 rocking the student community and Los Angeles at-large, the student leaders at Trojan Shelter have adjusted their operations to fit the current climate.
Trojan Shelter is a USC student-run organization that manages and operates student housing for college students in Los Angeles facing homelessness. The shelter is the second shelter by Students 4 Students, a nonprofit organization.
A study by the Hope Center found that 2.1 million students in higher education face homelessness in the state of California. With a USC bachelor degree totaling $299,300, it can be difficult to pay tuition and cover L.A.’s pricey rent.
Opening a student-run shelter
Trojan Shelter Co-President Senior Hannah Mulroe and founders Esther Cha and Abi Leung came up with the idea for a shelter in their “Nonprofits in the Public Interest” course. One class the professor brought in two students from Bruin Shelter, the first Students 4 Students shelter, to speak.
“It’s a really cool program and model,” Mulroe said. “[It’s] the opportunity to start something new that we are really passionate about.”
A team of eight spent a year working with the city on zoning and leasing a space. In the fall of 2019, the space was ready for students. The shelter’s traditional model has 50 student volunteers total, with two people on shift every night.
“We were able to open officially and it was really cool to train a bunch of student volunteers,” Mulroe said. “The overall mission is that it’s a shelter that is run by students, operated by students, staffed by students [that] serves fellow students.”
Trojan Shelter continues to strive to keep their shelter open and make sure their residents can have a safe place with COVID-19 protocols in place.
Adjusting for a COVID-19 world
Due to safety concerns, staff co-director Mia Esquivel spent the beginning of her summer hiring and training two live-in resident assistants for the upcoming year.
“We had to create a unique training and get them situated at the shelter,” Esquivel said.
The shelter changed their hours from weeknights to 24/7 so students can have a safe place to study and take online classes.
In addition,the organization took on a couple of new faculty advisors, one of whom is a USC Keck doctor. Unfortunately, the shelter had to decrease their capacity from six to three in order to maintain social distancing.
“[The Keck advisor] gave us a lot of great recommendations on maintaining social distance and keeping everyone safe in the space,” Mulroe shared. “We are asking all of our residents to be very conscious about only leaving for walks and exercise and not putting themselves or other people at risk by making poor decisions.”
Both Mulroe and Esquivel’s favorite part of working at Trojan Shelter is the group dinners that used to occur every night. The volunteers look forward to nights like those in the future.
“Everyone sits down for dinner, has that communal meal which doesn’t always happen in college, and often those conversations will go on for hours,” Esquivel fondly recalled. “It’s a really nice feeling of home that we try and create.”
The Trojan Shelter team also has a comprehensive plan in place in case one of their residents becomes infected with coronavirus.
“We have an isolation space prepared in case anybody tests positive for COVID,” Mulroe said. “Our landlord at the church is amazing and is offering us the use of this [extra] space on their site for no additional charge during this time, which is really amazing. Hopefully we’ll never have to use it. but it’s there if we need it.”