With news of the homeless population increasing in Ottawa amid COVID-19, Carefor staff at Ottawa Inner City Health are working diligently to uphold the health and safety of people living with mental health or addiction.
For ten years, this health care partnership between the City of Ottawa and other stakeholders has been providing maintenance and health care services to the homeless population.
Colleen Jones has been a Client Care Worker from the beginning of its creation. She works at the Oaks, which houses the Managed Alcohol Program. She admits working hasn’t been easy amid the pandemic, but being in the front lines and helping her clients is more important now than ever.
“Our clients are as vulnerable as they can be and we have to do everything in our power by means of constant hygiene and education to keep them safe,” she says. “Many of them have lived through so much already and survived, so they think that COVID-19 is just another flu that they would survive, but chances are they wouldn’t.”
Before the lockdown, The Oaks relied heavily on volunteers for completing many tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, but now all the responsibility lies on staff.
“We’re serving more than 50 clients and our work is doubled. Our clients see when we take our masks off our eyes are red from exhaustion. It’s nice to see some of them stepping up to the plate and working like some of our staff.”
Despite these challenges, staff are finding ways to brighten up the mood by playing music and telling jokes while respecting physical distancing. The pandemic has changed the way we communicate with others, but the sense of community remains the same.
“We’ve known some of these clients for a decade or more, they are our extended family and we are theirs.”
For that reason, protecting both clients and staff is crucial, because as Inner City Supervisor Kevin Nyembo says, without this service, his vulnerable clients would have nowhere to go: “Inner City is an essential service in the community – our clients are as vulnerable as they can be,” he stresses. “They tend to have challenging behaviours that people in other institutions, like hospitals, may have difficulty to handle. If we weren’t there, I don’t know where our clients would be.”
Learn more about the Managed Alcohol Program and Carefor’s partnership with Ottawa Inner City Health and Shepherds of Good Hope below.