Students sleep on Istanbul streets to protest astronomical rent prices

A group of university students who organized under the "We can't find shelter" movement slept on the streets of Istanbul's Kadıköy district on Sept. 19 to protest the astronomical rent prices observed across the country. Meanwhile, President Erdoğan boasted about his ruling AKP's unmatched support of college students in the country.

Duvar English

Organized under the "We can't find shelter" movement, a group of students slept on the streets of Istanbul's Kadıköy district on Sept. 19 to protest astronomical rent prices across the country, and especially in the metropolis. 

Rent prices in Istanbul have nearly doubled over the summer, leaving students unable to find housing in the city for the new academic term that started in person on Sept. 13. 

"We are in Kadıköy today, we are starting to sleep on the streets. We won't be overlooked anymore, we will show up everywhere they turn their heads," said a spokesperson for the movement in a video released on their Twitter page on Sept. 19.

"We are university students returning to campus after two years. We've been rendered homeless by rent prices that spiked between 70 to 290 percent across Turkey," the group said in a written statement they released.

The group noted that the government has failed to offer solutions to students who need housing, and has instead offered financial incentives to companies who could build residences.

"But we know that this problem would mostly be resolved not by supporting businesses but with an increase in student pensions and dormitory capacities, as well as rent control and financial subsidies for students," the statement added. 

Committed to continuing sleeping on the streets until the government installs policy changes to alleviate the housing problem in the country, the students were told by police that they needed to evacuate the steps they started their night on. 

"It's 00.56 a.m. and the police are telling the students to 'go home,'" wrote journalist Sultan Eylem Keleş. "'We don't have anywhere to go, that's why we're here,' the students are responding."

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Mahmut Tanal joined the students' protest after a while and was heard talking to the police, saying that the group wasn't doing anything illegal. 

"No joke, the police are asking us 'Don't you have a home?'" the students said alongside a video of Tanal speaking with officers, where police suggest the opposition deputy help facilitate finding housing for the group. 

"Why are you telling me this? I'm not a deputy of the government, you should tell this to the district mayor," Tanal is heard responding to the officer. 

The deputy was able to fend the officers off of the students by telling them that he would sleep with the group in support of their cause, and that police were "welcome" to remove him forcefully if they wished. 

The students also received support from locals who brought them soup and tea throughout the night, and the hashtag "We can't find shelter" quickly rose to the top of Twitter trending topics in Turkey. 

The students released a video at 5.47 a.m. to say good morning to their followers, where the spokesman said that they started around 9.30 p.m., thanked their supporters, and told their followers that they would continue to sleep in the streets until the housing problem was resolved. 

Erdoğan boasts about support to university students

Hours before the students started their protest, President Erdoğan boasted about his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's aid to university students on Sept. 19.

Responding to a reporter's question about astronomical price hikes in real estate, Erdoğan said that his government would "stop such cruelty if it's the case," but moved on to brag about dormitories his government built. 

"I should be clear about one thing, we made investments about dormitories that no other government has in the past. We built pretty luxurious dormitories too," Erdoğan said.  

The president also dismissed that there is a housing crisis.

"There's nothing to exaggerate. Why are you exaggerating?" he said, noting that the "unmatched support" of his government to university students was "working successfully."

"University students' pensions was a mere 45 liras when we came to power," Erdoğan said of 2002 and boasted about the current pensions that equate to around $75 per month. "Now it's 650 liras." 

Meanwhile, in the eastern province of Dersim, Mayor Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu from the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) told the daily Sözcü that his municipality would rent a hotel for students if the need emerged. 

Moving to complete the construction of a local dormitory building, the municipality was ready to "house students in homes until the dorm is complete," Maçoğlu said.