It’s been a challenging few weeks for all Canadians as we continue to grapple with COVID-19. Nearly 2 million Canadians have lost their jobs, millions of students remain home from school, and physical distancing is isolating seniors and vulnerable Canadians. Despite the challenges, there are still signs of help and hope from charities across the country.
Since the mass shut down of businesses, schools, and other institutions across Canada in mid-March, many charities have reported a drastic rise in service demand from vulnerable communities due to COVID-19. This includes an urgent and heightened demand on women’s shelters, mental health crisis lines, food banks, and organizations supporting isolated seniors, among many other charities who have all risen to the challenge to support frontline relief efforts.
This rise in demand has since been experienced by Chimo Helpline, a toll free mental health hotline based in New Brunswick. With most Canadians remaining physically distant from family and friends to prevent the further spread of the virus, many have lost access to support they previously depended on. Plus, the added uncertainty of the pandemic has caused much anxiety and fear.
“We are experiencing a 48 percent to 66 percent increase in call volume since mid-March,” says Lisa O’Blenis, Chimo Helpline’s Executive Director. “As recovery begins, we anticipate higher than normal call volumes as people adjust. We suspect there will be anxiety, fear, financial stress, and mental and physical health concerns in the months ahead.”
This surge in demand for mental health support has also been experienced by the team at Kids Help Phone, a 24/7 helpline that provides Canadian youth with access to counselling services over phone, text, or chat.
According to Aaron Sanderson, Senior Vice President, Advancement and Chief Development Officer at Kids Help Phone, they have experienced a 112% increase in demand for services since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in mid-March. Approximately one in five requests for help are related to suicide, and their team makes more than 10 crisis intervention rescues every day to stop someone from taking their own life.
“Young people are facing challenges that are more complex than ever,” says Sanderson. “They are isolated, away from their normal routines, school, friends, and family members. Some are sequestered at homes that may not be a safe place to be.”
A lack of feeling safe in one’s own home is also magnified for women experiencing domestic abuse, as both victims and abusers are isolating in close quarters during these stressful and uncertain times. According to Women’s Shelters Canada, a national charity supporting and advocating on behalf of Canadian women’s shelters, most shelters are anticipating a surge in demand once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Other women’s charities such as Luke’s Place Support and Resource for Women and Children are also anticipating an increase in calls for help in the weeks and months ahead. Based in Oshawa, Ontario, their team provides women experiencing domestic abuse with resources and family law services.
“COVID-19 and the ultimate closure of the province, put women and children subjected to domestic violence in increased danger, as they were forced to isolate with their abuser,” says Laura Oliver, Fund Development and Communications Manager at Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre for Women and Children. “We fully expect, as we begin to open back up, and people return to work-life outside of the home, that the number of women reaching out to Luke’s Place to access our services will increase greatly.”
As some charities like Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre for Women and Children are bracing for an eventual increase in demand during recovery, others are dealing with more immediate and urgent needs. At HelpAge Canada, a national charity supporting vulnerable seniors in Canada and around the world, their team has been working to mitigate the effects of loneliness and isolation among seniors since the pandemic began. Since March, their team has supported over 150,000 seniors across Canada by providing access to medication, food, hygiene products, and more.
Other organizations such as Vancouver’s DTES Response have had to find new and unique ways to support some of their most vulnerable community members.
A coordinated effort among Vancouver community groups and leaders, the DTES Response supports 15,000 vulnerable community members living in the city’s Downtown Eastside. This includes an estimated 3,000 people experiencing homelessness.
According to Amanda Burrows, a fundraiser with DTES Response, their response was formed due to the ongoing pandemic, but urgent needs from the community were a concern even before COVID-19 and the pandemic has exacerbated issues. The neighbourhood has previously encountered many community challenges including homelessness, drug use, crime, and other social issues.
“When it became obvious that COVID-19 was a threat to the already vulnerable residents, community groups sprang into action,” says Burrows. “We knew that frequent hand washing was one of the most important ways to combat covid — however, how do you wash your hands if you don’t even have soap? A few ad hoc folks came together to figure out how to get massive quantities of hygiene products to residents, and what it led to was an ambitious campaign to get more support for other immediate needs.”
Since their inception, the DTES Response team has provided food, hygiene products, and other support to members of the community who need it the most.
“We may have formed out of a pandemic, but the Downtown Eastside deserved our attention long before COVID-19,” says Burrows. “We will not stop supporting the neighbourhood. We will not stop listening to the needs of the residents. We will not stop fundraising and advocating until everyone is safely housed and poverty is eliminated.”
As charities continue to lead COVID-19 response efforts, Canadian charities on the forefront of these issues — including in your own local community — are currently facing an increase in demand or will see greater need as recovery continues in the weeks, months, and years ahead.