All but international students, those with ‘exceptional circumstances’ must be out by Sunday
With only three days left until the Sunday move out deadline, University of Ottawa students living in residence have expressed concerns that the school’s measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has only added more strain to an already stressful situation.
“I’m most concerned about mental health really, because all this happening at once, at the end of the semester when exams are coming up — this is not a good time to be evicting people,” said Erica Winters, a third-year political science and history student.
The school announced on Tuesday that everyone living in residence — with the exception of international students and those with “exceptional circumstances” — needs to move out by this Sunday at 4 p.m. Vacated rooms would then house those international students or others who are unable to fly back home.
Students can fill out a form requesting to remain in residence, which the school said it would respond to within 24 hours. On the form, students can indicate that their destination country is inaccessible due to a travel advisory, or add information if “extraordinary circumstances apply.”
“Especially with the pandemic, everybody’s gonna be freaking out,” said Winters, who lives in a single-bedroom in the school’s Annex residence building.
Winters, who is a trans woman, said that her appeal to have an extended stay in residence was granted by the school after she explained to them that she would have to move back home to a troubled-living situation in Sarnia, Ont.
“It might be difficult or mentally straining to go back — to leave — especially if you’re not from Ottawa. It’s probably not the best idea to say everybody’s out by Sunday,” she said.
The school’s move out measure came after Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, closing recreation centres, private schools, public libraries, bars, restaurants, movie theatres, concert venues and places of worship until at least March 30.
U of O president Jacques Frémont said that the decision to move students out of residence was “for the sake and the security of the students themselves” in an interview with the Fulcrum on Wednesday.
“Public health will tell you that students are better at home, people are better at home, and if they manage to stay enclosed at home,” said Frémont.
But Winters said that given how the school has been struggling with a mental health crisis all year, she argued that this measure is detrimental to students and their mental health.
“Doing this in the middle of a mental health crisis, I think is probably the worst part of it,” she said. “How (is) getting evicted going to (help) deal with people’s mental state during a pandemic?”
In a phone interview on their drive back to Scarborough, Ont. on Wednesday evening, Bilal Downey and Kyra Takacs shared similar sentiments.
“I think the thing that’s throwing so many people off right now is that we didn’t have a lot of warning about it,” said Takacs, a first-year psychology student who lived in the 90U residence.
Earlier this week, the university was only encouraging students to move out by the Sunday deadline and was offering prorated refunds (which still apply) on meal plan and residence fees.
“It’s been stressful because you have to ask your parents and other people to help you move out, and then all of a sudden, if you don’t have that, what happens to the people that are stuck?” said Takacs.
Bilal, who lived in the Leblanc residence and is a first-year criminology student, said moving out on such short notice was “chaotic, to say the least.”
“There was pure thrashing around, praying you can get a ticket or a ride back home,” said Bilal.
“Once (the university) heard about the virus, I think they should have planned for this to happen in the first place, and I think that they should have taken a bit more responsibility at least helping us move out and giving us a bit more warning at least,” added Takacs.
Tina*, a third-year student in residence, said the notice from the university on Tuesday night left her feeling “really scared.” Since her mother lives in a building with many seniors, who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, Tina decided against going home, leaving her with few options.
Tina said she applied to stay in residence but wasn’t counting on getting approved, so she packed her things, made arrangements to stay at her boyfriend’s home, and left residence on Wednesday morning.
“I left because that was my only solid plan, I wasn’t going to sit around and miss my only chance to escape residence,” said Tina.
But on Wednesday night, after she’d already completed the six-hour drive to Waterloo, Ont., her approval was granted.
“Are you kidding me? I went through all of this?” said Tina. “Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Tina said the measure from the university left her feeling frustrated.
“They can’t just spring this news on us, not have any plan in place and get back to us in 24 hours because we know now in this type of environment, a lot of things can change in 24 hours,” said Tina. “We can’t expect students to wait around with stress and anxiety, (the university) has to step up.”
Siobhan Gallagher, a first-year health sciences student living in Henderson residence, said she understands the university’s decision but wishes students in residence were given more time or extra measures, such as class cancellations for the week, to prepare for the move out deadline.
“Some people have assignments in the middle of the day while they’re travelling, and they don’t have WiFi to do it,” said Gallagher, who has found a way back home to the Greater Toronto Area over the weekend. “We still have work on top of being kicked out of where we live.”
A number of petitions urging the university to reverse their decision to force students to leave residence have been launched — one even signed by Canadian author Margaret Atwood with over 500 signatures as of publication time.
As of Thursday, there are 16 positive cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa. The two latest cases are a man in his 40s and a woman in her 60s, who both contracted the virus through travel and are now self-isolating.
The city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says “there could now be hundreds to even a thousand cases in the community now.”
Across the province, there have been two deaths from COVID-19 and at least 251 confirmed cases of the virus as of Thursday, with five labelled as resolved. There have been at least 736 confirmed cases of the virus and nine deaths in Canada.
COVID-19 has infected more than 222,000 people and killed over 9,000 globally since emerging in China in December 2019. There have been over 84,000 recoveries from the virus.
*Last name has been withheld to protect privacy.