Many of us have seen and read about the significant impact the COVID-19 crisis is having around the world, throughout our country, and within our own province and community. This global pandemic is disproportionately affecting people that are precariously housed, are homeless, and individuals who face barriers to hygiene and/or space for physical distancing. We know our strongest defense against the spread of this virus is by having access to stable housing, maintaining personal hygiene and having supports to cope during and after this crisis.
For many young people in our community, being able to meet their basic needs, navigating the housing and income support systems, staying connected to education/training, and receiving mental health supports can be challenging even on a regular day. Over these past few weeks these necessities have become even more vital, but are difficult to access or maintain as a result of the provincial public health emergency.
The RallyForward program is just one of Choices for Youth’s supportive housing programs. RallyForward provides access to affordable housing for vulnerable young people in our community. The program is unique in that youth participants are also paired with a system of supports aimed at eviction prevention and intensive case management. Participants of the RallyForward program receive access to safe and affordable housing, individualized supports and group sessions -- all with an emphasis on youth choice, self-determination and harm reduction.
Though the global pandemic has forced CFY programs to adjust and evolve to ensure safety protocols and measures are maintained, staff have worked diligently to ensure every single program participant has access to essential services to help them stay safe during these unprecedented and challenging times. This includes medication distribution; in-person check-ins with youth to complete wellness checks and assess medical needs (following public health guidelines); assistance with accessing medical services if needed; navigating income support; addiction services; daily meal deliveries; bus passes; sanitation supplies; and providing education/resources regarding COVID-19. For some young people, the program has been able to provide cell phones, as just one way to help reduce the feelings of isolation, and to allow them to remain connected with health care professionals, family and natural supports.
The RallyForward program continues to assess the needs of all young people and strives to ensure programming and supports remain accessible for all participants. In doing so, the team has also begun creating virtual programming groups to replace weekly in-person recreation and cooking groups. This is done through recording various videos, such as painting and cooking tutorials; to teach skills, provide meaningful activities for young people to do in their own homes, but most importantly to allow young people to remain connected with the program and the staffing team. Where possible, and when physical distancing can be maintained, in-person visits can occur -- like celebrating youth birthdays with a card and cake!
Brent Baker is one of eight Community Support Workers with the CFY RallyForward team. Brent’s experience over the course of the public health emergency has been complex, but rewarding. “We have always worked in an environment that is constantly changing to fit the needs of the young people, so COVID-19 was just something else we had to adapt to," he says. "The needs of the young people may be slightly different, but the main thing is we are still there to offer the supports they require. The reason we can continue to do our work is because of the on-going relationships we have fostered with the young people. We wouldn’t be able to do what we are still doing if it wasn’t for the young people we serve and their own desire to grow.”
Brent recalls times where he has truly witnessed the strength of the young people in the RallyForward program. Many youth have pre-existing mental health concerns and the team has continued to develop innovative ways to offset the potential decline in their mental health during the pandemic. On a daily basis, staff have seen how these young people continue to show resiliency in the face of increased hardship. Whether it be showcasing their musical talents during group activities; being accepted into post-secondary studies to further their education goals; or the success of securing safe and affordable housing – a place to call home; with the right support, he believes everyone is capable of achieving their identified goals.
RallyForward provides a supportive environment to help young people develop their skills and work toward continued growth and independence. The young people deserve to be recognized for their resiliency, as well as the staff within RallyForward and throughout Choices for Youth. Staff who put aside their own fears and anxieties to ensure the young people have what they need to be successful. Their concerns aren’t without challenges: many supports and services have switched to online platforms which may be inaccessible for youth; drop-in centres have closed; youth are facing increased challenges to stay stably housed; and physical distancing measures make it difficult to navigate systems -- yet, this staffing team continues to connect with vulnerable youth in our community and is committed to ensuring their basic needs are met. This level of commitment is recognized and very much appreciated.
Though the global pandemic and resulting public health emergency has brought about increased pressures, fears and challenges, the RallyForward team has adapted. We know that our continued support at this time will provide young people with a sense of security as we navigate this new normal and begin to move forward together. There are certainly challenges that come with continuing to offer support during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the RallyForward program is committed to helping vulnerable young people living in our community. -Susan and Brent
Susan Crawford is a Program Coordinator and Brent Baker is a Community Supports Worker, both with the RallyForward program Your support is needed now more than ever. Support Choices for Youth and the 1600+ young people that are helped each year. Make a donation today at www.choicesforyouth.ca/donate.