UO sees its responsibility of helping students in off-campus housing

When the smell of smoke drifted into her apartment, Haley Hash knew that she needed to react quickly.

An overloaded electrical outlet sparked and caught fire in an apartment at the Campus Twins — a Von Klein-managed property on East 14th Avenue.

That apartment was just two rooms down from where Hash, a University of Oregon student, was living.

Closing her apartment door as she evacuated, Hash and her boyfriend were joined on the street by other tenants and passers-by to watch as the building and their personal belongings burned.

“We got out and saw the flames coming out of the windows,” Hash said.

As emergency crews arrived and the ashes of their burning things began to rain down upon them, all they could do was watch helplessly as firefighters fought to contain the blaze.

Five days before Thanksgiving and two weeks before finals, 43 tenants – which included both UO and Lane Community College students – realized that they all had just become homeless.

When disaster strikes and students are displaced from their homes as a result, the UO has a safety net designed to help support students whose living situations have been compromised.

Whether it’s a broken water pipe, an earthquake or a fire that destroys everything, University Housing and the Office for the Dean of Students, as well as Enterprise Risk Services’ Emergency Management and Continuity programs will help students get back on their feet as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Krista Dillon, assistant director for Emergency Management and Continuity, said that the Office for the Dean of Students is capable of quickly mobilizing multiple emergency agencies that all could provide whatever aid may be required, depending on the severity of the situation.

Both Oregon State and Portland State universities offer similar programs.

When the Campus Twins caught on fire, the university’s protocol for providing assistance to its students went into full effect.

After learning of the fire, Paul Shang, assistant vice president and dean of students, tried to determine which students lived at the Campus Twins apartments with the help of Susan Eveland, the university registrar.

“The university does everything possible to help assist and support students,” University Housing Director Michael Griffel said.

“Within a very short period of time of the University’s knowledge of the fire, Paul Shang was in contact with me asking what spaces were available in University Housing if students affected by the fire wanted to stay on campus,” Griffel said. “Spaces were made available that night.”

Along with a call to the Red Cross, Shang also generated an email that provided contact information for himself, the UO Police Department and Lacey Epley-Watson, the Von Klein property manager, which he sent to tenants who had been identified as UO students.

For the people standing in the chilly November afternoon air, many of whom were unaware of the university’s actions or the email, the uncertainty was disconcerting.

“According to the contract, they aren’t obligated to do anything for us in the case of a fire,” Hash said of Von Klein.

“Unless they have renter’s insurance, it’s just like anywhere else,” Epley-Watson said.

Hash didn’t have renter’s insurance.

“It was really terrifying because I didn’t think there’d be anywhere to go,” Hash said.

But then something interesting occurred. Call it the spirit of Christmas or the season of giving — either way, Von Klein put all of the displaced tenants who needed a place to stay up in a hotel.

The tenants were informed by Larry Von Klein, the owner of the Von Klein properties, that they could go to the Campus Inn on Franklin, Epley-Watson said.

“So, right after the fire, I gathered up the tenants that needed someplace to go and walked them down to the Campus Inn and checked them all in, one-by-one.”

She also passed out her cell number.

“I always made sure that everybody had access to our office and myself,” Epley-Watson said. “I knew what I was getting myself into. Because they are students, some of them don’t even have family here. It’s pretty overwhelming to not have anybody’s number when it’s after hours.”

As for the temporary accommodations, there was no assurance tenants would get much more than a night or two at the Campus Inn.

“We only knew day-by-day if we were going to be paying for the hotel, and we ended up doing three nights for them,” Epley-Watson said.

After those three nights, the displaced tenants were informed that Von Klein could place them in other Von Klein-managed properties under leases that mirrored the ones they previously held.

A few residents opted out of their leases and found other living arrangements. But Hash, along with 75 percent of the tenants who were affected by the fire, remained with Von Klein.

“I was relieved,” Hash said. “I was really happy.”

And even without renter’s insurance, Hash was fortunate. By closing her apartment door during her escape, she stopped the fire from entering her room.

“All my stuff smells like I spent awhile around a campfire,” she said, “but it’s not ruined.”

More than half the rooms were damaged during the fire.

Now, nearly two months later, the building is being completely restored, Epley-Watson said.

“Preparedness at the University of Oregon is a shared responsibility,” Dillon said. “The Emergency Management and Continuity Program manages a team of trained individuals who help manage responses to incidents on campus, the campus’ emergency response plan and a comprehensive training and exercising program.”

The EMC website offers myriad tips and suggestions to students for how to prepare for, and react to, emergency situations.

For example, students can stay further informed by linking their cell phones to the EMC service in order to receive emergency text notifications.

Inclement weather updates, exam delays, university closures and criminal activity notifications are all provided instantly through this service.

“The lengths that we go through to make sure that students, faculty and staff are safe is really impressive,” Shang said.

This was certainly the case during the early evening hours of Nov. 23.

Before the embers of the Campus Twins had even cooled, UO staff, with the coordination of the Red Cross, had made plans that would provide immediate and longer-term aid to the displaced tenants.

But due to the quick and philanthropic actions of the Von Klein property management group, that aid was unneeded.

“The university wants to support its students and to know about their situations,” Shang said. “And certainly we will do anything we can to try to help them. In the case of the Campus Twins, all the work went on during the weekend … we just want to make sure that options are created for students and certainly don’t want them to be out in the cold or on their own not knowing what resources are available.”


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