Students suffering from debt, other worries have options

Laurie Marshall, Paralegal professor at Durham College. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Laurie Marshall

With COVID-19 still being a part of our lives even after a full calendar year, some students are dealing with legal, financial and mental health issues.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to solve those problems. Durham College offers several solutions.

One of the services being offered by the college is the DC Works program. It’s helpful for students who need help paying their bills, according to Chris Rocha, director of Financial Aid and Student awards.

From September to April, students can work part-time on campus across several departments in addition to their studies. The program provides the funding, but the students need to show financial need or qualify the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to be eligible.

Students can work 12 hours per week at $16.90 an hour, according to Rocha.

“I think it’s a good program, it also provides you with that additional funding, to help fund your education,” she said.

The help doesn’t stop there though.

Durham College also has a partnership with the clinic called the Access to Justice Hub.

Laurie Marshall, a professor in the Paralegal Program, said the partnership benefits students.

The hub is a partnership between Durham College, the Durham Community Legal Clinic and the Region of Durham.

Marshall said it offers services in small claims, court debt and assisting people with settling other debt.

Marshall said the Access to Justice Hub helps students with more than legal issues.

“The Access To Justice Hub helps students by providing referrals to mental health support and services in Durham Region free of charge to our students,” she said.

There is also the Durham Community Legal Clinic.

The clinic offers help with social benefits, landlord and tenant issues, workers safety concerns, insurance boards, and human rights and employment law.

With Canada’s national debt expected to rise considerably over the next few months as the federal and provincial governments continue to battle COVID-19, programs such as these could benefit students.

It’s worth noting that the people offering these services have also been impacted by the pandemic. In fact, they’ve had to change the way they offer these programs in an entirely new way.

The Financial Aid and Student Awards office, in particular, has been forced to move some of its positions to a virtual environment. It’s been busier than usual with fewer job opportunities being available for students, according to Rocha.

According to Statistics Canada, the student unemployment rate has hovered between 18 and 20 per cent since last October, almost one in five students.

Rocha has seen first-hand how much activity there has been since the college moved to online learning.

“We are getting emails every day. Because you know, like I said, without being on campus, we’re getting a huge amount of emails,” she said.

All of this added stress can lead to mental health problems down the line for students, but Rocha said she has a way to help with that too.

“We have students quite often that come into us and they have a financial situation but are experiencing other issues such as mental health issues, well-being issues, academic issues,” she said.

Rocha said students can also get help from a financial coach or coach at the Access and Support Centre or Wellness Centre.

“We’re all equipped to assess your situation and refer you to those other areas,” she said.

There are also services available such as the “Are You Okay?” link on Durham College’s home page.

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