COVID Lessons #3

August 13, 2021

COVID Lessons

Technology is everywhere; but for many it is nowhere.

Of the many lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most important is how our communities must provide alternatives to technology-reliant information and services if we are committed to ensuring access and providing help to individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

We may take for granted all the ways that the use of technology has ramped up and permeated our daily lives in the last year and a half. For many, however, this created barriers and a widening divide to access necessities: 

  • from the earliest days of COVID, many stores stopped accepting cash, leaving people who didn’t have a bank or credit card without the means to buy what they needed;
  • with libraries and community centres closed, access to community phones and computers was severely curtailed for many months, and without personal devises and/or digital literacy, many Street Health clients could not obtain current information about services essential to health.

After months during which it was more difficult, if not impossible, to access services face-to-face, there was a marked increase in the need for one-on-one attention to meet clients’ needs. To address the backlog of needs that built up during the pandemic peaks and respond to rapidly changing circumstances, outreach workers have never been more important. New resources have been needed to suppement the work of Street Health's Mental Health and Outreach Workers, who have pivoted to help clients with healthcare, justice and support systems appointments.

“There is only so much technology can do to support those who are marginalized,” notes Alan de Pass, a Harm Reduction Worker. “We are now training and supporting Embedded Peer Workers (people who bring lived experience to their work) at the socially distanced shelter hotels. We have recruited from those staying at these facilities and provided the training they needed to become advocates for harm reduction and health focused approaches. These peers work with us to provide knowledgeable one-on-one support. This path provides valuable work experience and excellent community support for those who are placed at these locations, but may have lost their previous support networks and are dealing with multiple pressing priorities.”

During COVID many of us have relied on technology to reduce isolation, work from home and maintain some level of healthcare services. It is vital, however, that we not forget that real time, in person interactions are often the key for peoples’ wellbeing and an essential part of providing service for those who are marginalized.

Watch for more Lessons from Covid. Be safe!