COVID Lessons #2

August 6, 2021

COVID Lessons

At Street Health, we are looking to the fall, planning and remaining hopeful that Ontario’s reopening will be successful. This moment seems like a good time to reflect on some of the lessons and reminders we have observed during this pandemic. We do this while holding in our minds and hearts the tragic number of individuals who have died from Covid and from the compounding overdose epidemic, which has claimed even more lives during this period of time. Both of these tragedies have left us grieving.

Thanks to the example set by the scientific community, Covid has demonstrated the overwhelming value of sharing and making information accessible. For Street Health this was not a new discovery, but its importance has been highlighted again both for individual clients and the wider community.

Lesson #2: Information Sharing is the Key

Most Street Health clients lack access to personal communication technology, and the closures of libraries and community centers made face-to-face interactions the essential and reliable source of information. The pandemic situation changed day to day and people needed new information and supports (be it masks, vaccines, or the numerous other recommendations). Today, as throughout the pandemic, Street Health’s doors remain open, our outreach workers are in the community and our staff are connecting with those in need. There is no substitute for this one-on-one interaction to support peoples’ wellbeing.

For Street Health, this sharing of information has also reached across much of the province. Our staff have always been advocates and regularly support sharing what we do to enable others. This spring the ID Safe program shared the structure and activities with groups as far away as Dryden, Kenora and Keewatin. These communities also struggle with issues related to systemic barriers to health and Narinder Ohri, ID Safe Coordinator, was pleased to share the learnings from Street Health’s 35 years of experience, enabling other agencies to build programs and offer similar services. “Our Zoom calls have brought together agencies and communities that are much more isolated,” highlights Ohri. “At Street Health, we know how much clients rely on having a safe location for their mail delivery. It helps people cope with the numerous challenges they are experiencing and their regular contact with a staff member who is always looking at ways to meet each client’s needs is a vital part of building their wellbeing.”

Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) Coordinator, Kelly White was also recently contacted by harm reduction workers in Manitoba. “The dire impact of the overdose crisis is being felt across Canada,” states White. “In Manitoba they have no supervised consumption sites, despite escalating drug poisoning deaths  endured by centres like Winnipeg and even smaller rural and Indigenous communities. Our experiences in Toronto with the community-initiated and volunteer-run site at Moss Park, the development of Street Health’s OPS, and the provincial government defunding provide useful insights to those seeking to create life-saving services. I certainly hope the group (https://mhrn.ca/) doesn’t experience the same misinformed hurdles to providing healthcare to people who use drugs that we have experienced in the face of unrelenting grief. I can only hope that building networks of solidarity across the country can help to reduce the stigma some people associate with a harm reduction approach.”

At both the client and community levels, Street Health staff have been sharing information in order to support change. It may not be a new lesson, but during Covid we have certainly relearned the importance each and every day.

Watch in the coming weeks for more Lessons from Covid. Be safe.