Do you know who’s not stockpiling toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic? Marginalized populations like participants who receive services from Stella’s Circle. They’re not even stockpiling food, mostly because they are not in such a privileged position to be able to do so. Stella’s Circle works with people who face barriers such as mental illness, addictions, homelessness, poverty, criminal justice involvement, etc.
News about COVID-19 is dominating all media channels and can be overwhelming for many people who don’t usually experience anxiety. Imagine if anxiety is part of your everyday life. This time of uncertainly is overwhelming. There is a lot of information circulating and it can be difficult for anyone to distinguish what is credible information and what’s not. This is particularly true of people who may not have access to any source of public health information.
Like every other organization, we have increased our promotion about handwashing, increased cleaning and provided information about hygiene etiquette and social distancing. We’ve told staff not to come to work if they’re not feeling well, for any reason. We’ve spoken with other community organizations and health officials and are scheduled to participate in various sector-related meetings. We’re adding additional screening questions to various programs and we are regularly reviewing all group activities.
Thanks to the patrons of the Hungry Heart Café who decided to add $2 to their bill when dining in the Café, the kitchen staff have prepped 300 individually packaged meals to be able to provide to our participants should they need it. It’s called our Meals Squared program. That’s a lot of impact for $2. (BTW, the Café has lost lots of catering jobs over the next few weeks as organizations cancel gatherings, so the next time you need a caterer…)
We learned lots of things during our recent State of Emergency (SoE) in St. John’s. We certainly saw the impacts of isolation and extreme loneliness that participants felt without access to their usual services. So, we are walking a balance. Of course, we want everyone to be safe, so as the situation develops, our response will be quick and flexible. One could say that the simple solution would be to close our doors to all programs but that is likely to have many unintended consequences and could actually worsen the situation. It is also not an appropriate response for an organization rooted in social justice principles dedicated to helping a marginalized population. Public health and safety requires some essential services. You can’t close homeless shelters like our Naomi Centre, our shelter for young women. For many of our participants, without the staff of Stella’s Circle, their supports are reduced or non-existent. We can’t abandon them. Our support will continue as long as we are able to safely provide it, using various precautions as recommended by our federal and provincial authorities. Over the coming weeks, services might and will probably look differently than they did yesterday.
Another thing that was obvious during the SoE, and I already knew, is how amazing our staff and volunteers are. They recognize the courage of our participants and their respect for them means that we will be there to support them. So please give lots of gratitude to our staff and volunteers, and all who work in the community sector. They’re on the front-lines too.
If you need mental health assistance during this time, the Provincial Warm Line is available at 1-855-753-2560. Visit Bridge the gAPP to access several free, online mental health and addictions programs. The Crisis Text Line is confidential, free and available by texting ‘Talk’ to 686868. The Mental Health Crisis Line operates 24/7 at 1-888-737-4668.
Lisa Browne, CEO, Stella’s Circle