There are approximately 10 000 day and night students in Dawson. Could some of them be homeless? Absolutely.
It is nearly impossible to determine how many Dawson students have faced homelessness or housing problems.
Financial adviser Yvonne Dudley says that five “completely homeless” students living in homeless shelters have come to her seeking help in 15 years, while psychologist Johanne Godin says that “around five students a year” facing housing problems have come to her, making it around 50 students in 10 years.
Homeless students are “a little bit invisible,” says Godin. “They’re coming to school, they’re going to class, some even have a smartphone.”
“They don’t give me all the details of their situation,” adds Dudley. “They have a very strong circle of friends [whose parents would allow them to live in their house for a while], they’re very resourceful.”
Between 35 000 and 65 000 Canadians aged 13 to 24 years old face homelessness every year, making up about 20% of the total homeless population.
Many factors, usually combined, cause homelessness among youth.
“There are psycho-social components, financial components, housing factors, addiction problems, difficult family situations, and problems of domestic violence [that cause homelessness among youth],” explains Godin.
“Some of these students have had fires, floods or other coincidences,” adds Dudley. “The price of apartments in Montreal is very high, and they often have to choose between paying for [their rent] or transportation, since some of them live in Terrebonne or the South Shore. Financial aid only covers the cost of living, no extras.”
It certainly isn’t easy for these students to live with homelessness or housing problems when they also have to face society’s prejudice and misconceptions.
“Common misperceptions of homeless youth include thinking they are lazy, brought it on themselves, screwed up, took advantage of what they had, are drug users – though not most of these students that I worked with were drug users,” says Godin.
“[People think that they are] not motivated people, they don’t care, and they’re sucking off the government,” adds Dudley.
Thankfully there are programs, activities, and organizations dedicated to helping Canada’s homeless youth.
The Hire Up program, launched in November 2015 by career sites Impakt, Workopolis, and Home Depot, is “connecting homeless youth to potential employers [and is providing them] with up to six months of post-employment support to ensure their success.”
This program works in partnership with Dans La Rue, a charitable organization founded in 1988 to help homeless and at-risk youth.
As Dans La Rue development advisor Michelle LeDonne says, “each year, [Dans La Rue] help[s] over 1000 youths between the ages of 12-25 years old in Montreal. […] While we do not know the exact number we have helped since 1988, it is well into the tens of thousands.”
Dawson has for the second year in a row the Clothing Drive, an activity also in partnership with Dans La Rue, where students can donate clothes and shoes in black boxes outside the DSU office (2F.2) during the month of October.
According to DSU chairperson Anthony Williams, the Clothing Drive’s goal is to “give back to the community in general and learn to appreciate everything that [we] have.”
But the Clothing Drive isn’t the DSU’s only activity designed to help homeless or disadvantaged youth. Dawson Dinin’ is a lunch service where any student can drop off their reusable container in Conrod’s every Tuesday and Thursday before 11:30, which will be filled with fresh vegan food by 1:00.
“We also go around the city and give meals to [the] homeless in Atwater,” adds Williams. “During Frosh Week, we gave out extra hot dogs.”
Just because Dawson College is located in Westmount doesn’t mean that some students here don’t struggle with housing problems or homelessness. Homeless students may be “invisible”, but they certainly are not inexistent.