By Lianna Hubbard
The LightHouse Commons’ closure sent dorm residents scattering on March 21 to friends and family. Those who couldn’t find free shelter signed leases with apartments or paid for more nights in the dorm.
“Like the dorms, that was a huge change really fast,” said sophomore Jaida Brown, one of the eight resident assistants in LHC. “They said ‘all the residents need to leave the dorms,’ and we were like, “wow, okay, how can we help them?’”
More than 340 students moved out of LHC on Lee campus when the dorm closed for coronavirus.
“When a resident needed a move out, they would go to the front desk,” Brown said. “The RAs were around to help them move out.”
Friends and family weren’t allowed inside the dorms to assist.
“We didn’t want everyone in dorms at once, because we didn’t know where they were all coming from with the virus,” Brown said. “It’s really scary.”
Around 60 students who couldn’t find somewhere to go applied to continue living in the dorm. LHC helped them find friends and family, plan travel, search for an apartment, or allowed them to stay in their suite.
“This is an extremely busy and fluid time with things constantly changing in our nation as we face this pandemic,” Justin Long, director of housing, said in an email. “Our focus is on the health and safety of our students and staff and assisting in any way we can.”
LHC began clearing out on March 13 when the dorm sent out an email advising students to not return from spring break. They asked students who stayed over the break to go home.
On March 18, LHC stopped asking. They told all students to leave by March 21.
“We got like three days heads up to move out of the dorm,” said freshman Kylee Burger.
Burger moved into her father’s house in Fort Myers on March 20. Now, she shares a room with her sister.
“In the dorm I had my own space, but I don’t anymore,” Burger said. “Now that there’s online school, I have to stay in the house even more. It’s weird.”
Not all students were as lucky as Burger. Students who didn’t have alternative housing applied to stay at LHC.
The dorm considered extenuating circumstances like international students, students with disabilities that kept them from traveling, students without another place to live, or students who had a sick person at their alternative housing.
Less than 30 students remain, with more expected to move out before the semester ends.
“We met with students on an individual basis to help assist with their plans on how to get home or their planned destination,” Long said in an email.
RAs and other live-in staff were given the option to stay in the dorm to assist the students who stayed behind.
Brown decided to go home, though. She left for her family home in Lakeland, Florida, on March 21 after helping residents move out.
“You just feel incomplete,” Brown said. “You want to finish out your semester. Not being able to move out the time you were supposed to is weird.”
After spending her two years at FSW in the dorm, Brown’s graduating semester was cut short by the immediate coronavirus clear out.
“With my residents, whenever I saw them, it was a hi and bye. I didn’t get to really say goodbye.”
The dorm gave students a partial refund of their payments.
Students with payment plans still have their payments due on the regularly scheduled dates, but their payments will be reduced to reflect the nights they’re not staying in the dorm. The longer students stay in the dorm, the less will be taken off their bill.
“I’d have another payment next month, but it’s going to be reduced,” said Burger.
Students who paid the dorm fees in full, received a refund for the nights they couldn’t stay in the dorms.
RAs don’t pay for housing in LHC. Instead, they received a paycheck for the rest of the semester they would have worked.
“I was really honored that they would think so much about us,” Brown said. “That was really nice of them to do that.”
Students are waiting to return to the LHC next semester.
Brown won’t be coming back though.
“I absolutely loved my team and how they had handled these fast-faced changes with the virus,” Brown said. “That’s part of why it was so hard to leave.”