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U of O student project provides school skills for Ottawa’s homeless

Photo: Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi

Students at the University of Ottawa are taking teaching into their own hands with the launch of a new tutoring program for the homeless.

CAUSE Tutoring provides one-on-one assistance in a variety of subjects to those that may not have the means to acquire tutoring services.

While many Ottawa services for the homeless are geared towards the essential provision of shelter and food, CAUSE hopes to provide skills necessary for long-term success in the workforce.

“It’s really hard if you take a gap in your education to try and get back on board,” said Tina Yuan, member of the board of directors and a third-year public administration and life sciences student at the U of O.

Yuan said the program fosters the confidence necessary for those who are homeless to get back on their feet and seek out a job.

The curriculum’s practical approach teaches not just the basic skills of a subject, but applications to everyday social and economic situations.

“We have a program for writing cover letters and resumes,” said Yuan of their English curriculum, as well as math classes which teach “how to calculate taxes, how to calculate tips, and how to calculate interest.”

The project has been years in the making, stemming back to Yuan’s initial needs assessment conducted at a women’s transitional shelter in Sandy Hill. She found that many women were also attending school while living at the shelter, and that most did not have the means to supplement their learning with a tutor.

As the organization provides ample opportunity for student involvement in its mission, this is a project that has potential to spur change.

It’s a reality that’s “sometimes not known to people in university,” she said.

However, an associate professor of psychology at the U of O who’s an expert on community psychology, housing, and homelessness said that despite the merits of such a program, there are other factors that need to be addressed. While homelessness is often seen as a result of drug addiction or mental illness, it boils down to a lack of affordable housing and insufficient salaries, he explained.

Many cities in Canada, including Ottawa, are transitioning to a housing-first approach, which is seen by experts as the most effective way to end homelessness. They then provide the support necessary for the individual to deal with any other issues that contributed to their homelessness.

These programs are shifting funding from shelters and drop-in centres to subsidized housing.

“Some of the risks that they come from shifting money from drop-ins to housing is that even people who are housed who still remain very, very poor might still be ones still using some of the drop-in services,” said Sylvestre.

Support programs like CAUSE are still a vital tool in the fight against homelessness, he said, because they provide homeless people with skills, contacts, and a sense of purpose.