Over the past four years, volunteers and staff at the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA)’s Foot Patrol service centre have struggled to support students without a safe place to stay in the evenings. Foot Patrol’s safe walk service enabled us to ensure that anyone who felt unsafe in the evenings would have company walking home, but was unable to offer that safe space to rest itself.

In summer 2021, in partnership with the CUSA Food Centre, Foot Patrol staff developed the Unified Support Centre (USC) by amalgamating the Food Centre and Foot Patrol service centres to create a long-term, sustainable, student support-oriented service at CUSA. Aware that a service-delivery gap existed, the USC’s founders built the space with the goal of providing three pillars of student support. The first pillar consisted of food and essentials support in addition to food-related events, and was integrated into the USC by adapting and building on existing Food Centre procedures. The second pillar, consisting of safety-related services with a focus on evening support, was implemented by integrating Foot Patrol’s services. Our vision for the third pillar is an open, no-questions-asked, same-evening intake housing support service exclusively for Carleton University students.

Ottawa’s homeless shelter system is overcrowded and fragmented, and longer term supports often take days to access. Existing homeless shelters are not ideal for students attempting to maintain their studies while seeking support to resolve their situation. As a result, students lacking a safe space to rest often attempt to discreetly sleep in an unpatrolled corner of campus or risk returning to an unsafe environment.

The Unified Support Centre (USC) intends to work with on and off campus partners to develop a space that offers students a short-term place to sleep overnight without questions or judgement while a long-term solution to their situation is found. USC volunteers and staff will be available to offer advice for accessing additional on and off-campus support and resources to interested service users.