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Since 2021, the University of Tulsa (TU) has housed refugee individuals on campus in unused student apartments. This housing program was developed in partnership with local resettlement agencies to address housing needs in the City of Tulsa. To date, TU has housed 38 non-student refugees on campus.

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

The housing program started as a way to help alleviate housing shortages for arriving refugee communities during a time of crisis. Quickly, the program became an initiative that provided essential community support and a safe landing for refugees in Tulsa. This is especially true for at-risk young adults, many of whom arrived in Tulsa without their parents or older relatives. By housing these individuals on TU’s campus, we were able to provide safe and affordable housing in a supportive community. Not only has the housing program helped with housing, it has also helped with integration, as the refugees are able to make friends with university students through on-campus programs like the TU-Afghan Cultural Exchange Program. 

2. Key to the Success of the Program

This program is unique because it has developed a model to house non-student refugees on our university campus for extended periods. Because the refugees pay rent, the program has long-term stability as it generates income for the institution, rather than using financial resources. 

3. Key Actors and Participants

The key actors in the program include staff at the University of Tulsa, local refugee resettlement and support service agencies, and newcomer communities.

The program is coordinated by TU’s Liaison for Afghan Refugees who acts as a liaison between TU offices, the refugees living on campus, and local refugee agencies. This liaison communicates with TU offices including Campus Services (Housing), Fitness Center, Mail Services, and Campus Security, all of whom provide services for the refugees on campus.

The program initially started in partnership with Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma (USCCB affiliate) to house their refugee clients and has expanded to also house some clients from B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement Agency (HIAS affiliate).

After 90 days, the refugees are transferred to the YWCA, Tulsa’s refugee support services agency. The liaison works with all three refugee agencies to communicate the needs of their clients to their caseworkers and to communicate information from TU to these agencies. 

5. Impact and Outcomes

In total, TU has housed 38 refugees in campus apartments or neighborhood houses owned by the university. Of these individuals, five are now enrolled as full-time students at TU. The refugee community has benefited from living in a safe and supportive community, which has been especially important for the young adults living in our campus apartments. Most of the refugees living on campus are individuals in their 20’s, whose parents and families are still in their country of origin (or have escaped to neighboring counties). Living in campus apartments has allowed these newcomers to have extra support, community, and safety as they start their lives in the US.

The program has also benefited local refugee resettlement agencies as it has helped them place clients in affordable and safe housing.

Finally, the refugees living on campus are paying rent, generating income for TU in apartments that would otherwise be vacant. This program has generated over $200,000 in gross income for TU while providing safe and affordable housing for newcomers. 

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Secure permission from your institution leadership to house newcomers in unused student housing
  2. Conduct an assessment of available housing 
  3. Communicate with all potential campus partners about housing and community needs. Ongoing communication is key for program success.  
  4. Work with a refugee resettlement agency to identify arriving refugee families that would be suitable for on-campus housing (including considerations such as family size)

7. Challenges 

Challenges include developing sustainable policies and procedures related to housing non-students on campus. This includes developing plans for how the individuals will pay rent, the best ways to communicate with non-English speaking tenants, identifying the campus offices that will articulate with the refugees, and developing procedures to deal with crises. 

8. Resources and Partnerships

To be successfully implemented this program requires the following:

  • Either a stipend for the program coordinator (if the coordinator is doing the work outside of their regular responsibilities), or a staff member with part-time responsibilities to manage it. The coordinator works as a liaison between refugees on campus, university offices, and resettlement agencies. 
  • Parternishp with at least one local refugee resettlement agency. These partners are essential in identifying individuals who need housing, and for helping with the broader needs of the refugee communities living on campus. 

9. Looking to the Future

We hope to continue this program for arriving newcomers who need additional community support, including young adults who have been separated from family. As long as the housing capacity allows, we will continue to house the refugee community in campus apartments until they wish to move. 

10. Contact Information

Name: Danielle Macdonald 
Title: Associate Professor of Anthropology
Organization: University of Tulsa, Department of Arts & Sciences: Anthropology & Sociology (Danielle Macdonald profile)

State: Oklahoma

Current partner contact: B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement Agency (HIAS affiliate) – refugees@bnaiemunah.com

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