‘We cannot find shelter’ movement in Turkey

Turkey’s youth is uniting in a movement to say, “We cannot find shelter.’ The movement draws attention to the millions of young people across Turkey who need affordable housing and cannot find it because rents have increased to a level above what an average student can pay.

Turkey’s youth, the ‘future’ of our country are crying out saying, “We cannot find shelter,” uniting under the hashtag #Barınamıyoruz.
This year, 815,365 students were accepted to universities across Turkey this year alone. These are simply the newcomers. There are also those who are already students at universities. If you add them numbers, there are millions of young people who need affordable housing. They cannot find it because rents have increased to a level above what an average student can pay.

As a person is living in Istanbul, I have observed friends and colleagues of mine who have reached a certain financial status in their professional lives, for example who earn 10 to 15 thousand liras per month cannot find an apartment to rent. One reason is that there are no available rental places. Those that are available in central areas and that are “clean and habitable” start from 5000 to 6000 liras per month. Imagine those students trying to live on an allowance of 1,000 liras per month.

If the financial situation of the student’s family is not at least upper-middle class, or if there are several other siblings to look after, the financial situation of the student attending university becomes significantly more difficult. When we think of being a university student, we think of students having fun laying on the lawn studying, but it isn’t like that anymore.

There is no adequate student housing. The total number of private and foundation dormitories in Turkey is 4,500. This number was 6,000 before the pandemic, but 25 percent of the dormitories were closed for economic reasons. We do not know how many of the closed ones are private and how many are foundation dormitories because the ministry does not share this data. There are a total of 793 state dormitories with a total capacity of 793,000 students. The capacity of private and foundation dormitories is 50,000 and 3,000 and 80 percent of the capacity has already been occupied.

A student recently told me, “I couldn’t stay five minutes in the state dormitory. It was a shithole. I had to leave immediately after I arrived.” When I think back to 15 years ago, when we were students, our schoolmates staying in state dormitories told us about the conditions of such places. I’m sure today they are worse. It is a fundamental human right to demand living conditions suitable to human dignity.

A photo was recently posted on social media of a private dormitory. There was a tiny windowless room with a bed and a cupboard. Next to the bed, there was only enough space for one person to stand. This was a private dormitory room the cost is 900 liras a month.

President Erdoğan said the other day, “When we came to power, state student loans were 45 liras per month. It is now 650 liras. Shame on you if you complain.” Mr. Erdoğan when you came to power, rents were 250 liras a month; now they are 5,000 liras. So, shame on you.

Let’s assume you are a student who can afford an apartment. In rental contracts, there is always a fixed clause. Each year, there is a raise in the rent to be calculated according to TÜFE-ÜFE, which are Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI) respectively. The CPI is 17 percent and the PPI is 45.52 percent this year. Increases are usually made according to PPI. Now, landlords are going back to CPI. Even so, let’s say your rent is 3,000 liras and two students are sharing. There will be an increase of about 600 liras. The 3,000-lira apartment is also likely somewhere on the outskirts of Istanbul. Transportation must be at a cheap rate for students, otherwise it is not possible. Eating, drinking, visiting two museums... How students can manage to do these remains a mystery.

There was a story in the weekly newspaper Oksijen two weeks ago, which said that sellers were embarrassed to announce the prices of goods. “There was some kind of an enthusiasm to sell our goods when things were good. Now, these costly prices have taken away the enthusiasm,” sellers told the paper. Nobody can shout, as is typical in open markets, “Come here, tracksuits are only 60 liras,” he claimed, adding, “The minimum wage has been raised by 500 liras, but the bills have gone up by 1,500 liras. Even in previous economic crises, we continued to make money. But what we are going through now is not a crisis as we know it. It’s something else.” Okra costs 30 liras a kilo. We can’t even afford the most hated vegetable! If you buy a kilo of key basic needs for a family of four, it would cost at least 300 liras per week.

People get sick under these conditions. Because of excessive anxiety, no one is of sound physical or mental health.

Back to the demands of the youth.

Organized under the “We cannot find shelter” movement across the country, the students in Turkey have been demanding affordable rent and quality dormitories. This movement has been going on for a while. Young university students are living on the streets, sleeping on benches and spending the night in parks. They are trying to make their voices heard.

People living nearby offer them tea and soup. They have made statements to the press, saying, “We have been homeless due to rent increases ranging from 70 percent to 290 percent throughout Turkey. Instead of incentives to bosses and tax amnesties to companies, we know that this problem will be largely solved by increasing the amount of scholarships and dormitory capacities, controlling rent prices, and providing financial support for student housing.” They are pointing the government towards a solution. So, has the government done in response? They are directing the police to intervene in protests with these students. The students respond, “Even if you send us away, we will find another place to stay. Because we have nowhere else to go.”

The law is clear; the state has obligations: In Article 57 of the Constitution, under the chapter “The Right to Housing,” it says, “The State shall take measures to meet the need for housing within the framework of a plan that takes into account the characteristics of cities and environmental conditions, and also support community housing projects.” In my opinion, this provision is inadequate. The right to housing should be discussed in more detail in the Constitution and the responsibility of the state should be more precisely defined.

At the same time, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Article 11 of the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

In summary, the international conventions under which we are a party also cover the right to housing in detail. Since that seems to be contrary to the government’s interests, we may one day see the government reject the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The embarrassment caused by the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is still here.

The state is again intervening and fighting young people because of their demands for their constitutional right to housing. They will of course call these protests a “set up” organized by enemy forces. Again, they will accuse genuine victims. Again, the abusers of power will be engaged in a discourse where they will declare themselves the victim. They will say, “They are terrorists.”

Let them say so. Because of this repeated discourse, they have pitted the entire youth against themselves. It will be the government which loses. All that is happening to us now, this unemployment, expensive food, and homelessness is the result of 20 years of incompetent rule. The solution is apparent. We will unite and we will topple, with our votes, these rulers who abused their power and abused the whole country. We will immediately put in place and operate those policies that will solve these problems.