Camped out amid a crisis

Couple makes best of tight housing market

Chris Rourke

Times Staff Writer


For “Ann Jones,” every day is a challenge in leading a normal life.

Jones is a senior at Western State Colorado University studying English — but her life is a far cry from that of the average student. At her request, Jones’ name has been changed for the purpose of this article.

She and her boyfriend are living out of their car, parking at various locations each night, hopeful to find rest after a busy day. They rise at about 6 a.m. and roll up the makeshift bed in the back of their vehicle.

The cooler which holds the couple’s food is loaded on top of their bedding, and they pack the rest of their items before heading to a local coffee shop. After buying a drip coffee and a cup of tea, they take advantage of running water, washing their faces and brushing teeth. Then Jones is off to her job at Western — another example of the lengths some go to put a roof over their heads amid the Gunnison Valley’s housing crisis.

Jones apparently is not alone in her living situation. The Times has received reports of other Western students living out of their vehicles as well. However, attempts to contact them via e-mail were not successful as of press time.

From Jones’ job to class and back again, she travels through her day. After her last work shift, she heads to the library or University Center to finish homework. She maintains a 3.93 grade-point average, and after closing her books for the day, she meets her boyfriend and they find a location to camp for the night.

The couple began searching for housing in July. With each new rental listing came the competition of 20 other people, or prices exceeded their budget of around $1,000 per month.

Jones opined that landlords are beginning to price college students out of the market.

She has no interested in living on campus. Since her boyfriend has graduated from Western, he is no longer able to live in student housing. And, Jones said, noisy neighbors and maintenance issues made dorm life difficult for her previously.

But there’s hope on the horizon for the couple. They recently found an apartment listed online. Sight unseen, they put a deposit down but can't move into the unit until October. They consider themselves fortunate to find housing before winter.

Unlike Jones, other upperclassmen have chosen to live on campus although they are not required to do so — also a possible indicator of the tight housing market.

Western’s Director of Residence Life Shelley Jansen told the Times that about 100 juniors and seniors lived in campus housing last year. She has yet to tally this year’s figure but estimated it to be comparable.

"I think that has a lot to say about the housing (situation)," Jansen said.

Yet, Jansen noted other reasons that may be at play — such as students who do not wish to sign a year’s lease, or some who opt for the convenience and close proximity to classes.

Western has a policy of requiring students in their first two years to live on campus. First-year students must have roommates unless there is a documented need for them to live alone. Other apartment-type housing is available at Western to those in their second year of schooling and beyond.

Jansen said her office is working to make the on-campus living experience attractive. Maintenance of current buildings has become a priority in her office since no additional housing facilities are in the works.

Jansen said the number of students living on university grounds is about 980 — not a record — and capacity is about 1,200. She offered there’s still room for more.

Still, Jones and her boyfriend prefer their independent living arrangement, pulling clothing each week from their storage unit and showering in public bathrooms — at least until an alternative becomes available.

So far, they've managed the stress of their situation while holding down jobs and attending class. Jones said she looks forward to having running water soon and being able to simply walk to her closet to pull out the day's wardrobe.

"And I'm really looking forward to not having gravel in my bed," she said.

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at

Gunnison Country Times

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