Meet Charlotte and Cora. Charlotte Smith (BA/18) is a Carleton Master’s student and Cora MacDonald is a Carleton PhD student, both doing their research on ending and preventing youth homelessness.
The pair met three years ago at Carleton while helping to organize a national conference on youth homelessness. They became fast friends, quickly connecting through their shared passion for youth support. Since then, Charlotte and Cora have worked together on a variety of mentorship, peer support, advocacy and research activities related to youth homelessness in Ottawa.
Like much of the world, Charlotte and Cora’s work looks a little different in the time of COVID-19.
“We’ve continued to provide support and mentorship to youth via video and phone chats. But due to COVID, we haven’t been able to host youth team meetings or engage in any of our usual in-person work,” Charlotte explains.
“Instead, we’ve been focusing on protecting the needs of youth with lived experience of homelessness while they practice physical distancing,” she continues. “Everyone’s routine is impacted by the current crisis, but the youth that we work with face unique barriers and challenges to safe isolation, including reduced access to counselling and addiction services and lack of technology for communication.
“In order to encourage youth to stay safely inside, we’ve been collecting and supplying them with equipment and materials that might help such as computers, game consoles, art supplies and more.”
Cora shares that they’ve also “been trying to find ways to raise and maintain youths’ morale.” That’s what drove the duo to start helping youth create resumes.
“We have worked closely with some of these individuals for as long as two years. During that time, we’ve seen several of them go from homeless to housed while at the same time working on advocacy projects with us,” Cora shares.
She continues: “It’s easy right now to feel hopeless and lose track of all the great things that we’ve all accomplished as individuals and as a collective. Resume work allows us all to look back at those positive and productive moments. It also encourages youth to look toward a hopeful future, as they use this time to prepare for potential future work opportunities.”
After sharing their plans on social media, Charlotte and Cora’s network quickly sprung into action to help out.
They were able to team up with Operation Come Home (OCH), a powerhouse community organization that provides youth with education and employment opportunities as well as dynamic, well-rounded supports.
“OCH has been amazing during this time. In addition to giving us $1,000 to provide food and hygiene supplies to 19 young people with whom we regularly check in, it has offered us guidance, advice and templates to use as we help youth craft their CVs,” Charlotte explains.
Cora adds: “Dave Nabi, an accountant and Carleton alumnus (BCom/81), also reached out, offering to run mock interviews with youth over video chat to practice their interview skills.”
For Charlotte and Cora, it’s been inspiring to see the community come together to help youth with lived experience when they need it the most.
“This really shows the strength of our community,” says Charlotte. “While this crisis is eroding everyone’s mental health to a degree, it’s especially difficult to cope for those who are the most marginalized, who have the smallest and weakest social networks and who have the fewest resources and supports.”
Charlotte and Cora both recognize and acknowledge the challenges we’re currently facing as a society. But they also see a silver lining.
“We’re all struggling with the loss of direct human contact,” they agree. “That’s challenging right now. Yet these feelings point to a future where we will have a greater appreciation for each other as human beings—where we honour and nurture the fundamental truth that we depend on each other. A future where human connection has the highest value, and is ensured for all people above all else.”
Photos by Love Free Studio.
Charlotte and Cora recently helped raise over $30,000 on Carleton’s FutureFunder to establish the Chicken and Boots bursary to support homeless and previously homeless youth. Get involved here.
Follow Charlotte and Cora on Twitter to learn more about their current work.
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