The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on youth experiencing homelessness.
While we were all being told to stay at home to protect ourselves against the coronavirus, homeless youth had nowhere safe to go. The little or no contact they had with their families made them even more vulnerable during these uncertain times. The deserted streets and closure of public facilities meant they had no access to information, and many mental health and addiction services were interrupted, exacerbating the social isolation and precariousness that already affect the youth who come to Dans la rue for help.
“We had to realign our efforts and go into crisis management mode, given the shortage of opportunities available to guide youth along a constructive path. Unfortunately, we’re still seeing (too) many young people in distress. ”
̶ Cécile Arbaud, Executive Director
The public health measures implemented at Dans la rue to comply with government requirements forced us to temporarily suspend some of our programs, including the music and art rooms and other activities. Being cut off from these programs, which for many are key ingredients in a more self-sufficient and fulfilling life, meant that a number of vulnerable youth had to put their plans for moving forward on hold.
A few of the realities facing homeless youth during the pandemic:
- Access to drinking water was problematic during the heat waves in May and June. The public drinking fountains in Montreal were shut off until the end of May. Dans la rue distributed bottled water in large quantities to homeless youth to ward off thirst.
- Washrooms in restaurants and public buildings were closed.
- Given the public health measures in place, warm meals became hard to come by as they were difficult to serve in a safe way.
- Many laundromats temporarily shut down.
Dans la rue’s laundry services at the Day Centre and the Bunker remained open throughout the lockdown.
- Some retail establishments were no longer accepting cash.
- There were fewer spaces at emergency shelters.
The Bunker had to reduce its capacity from 17 to 9 spots to comply with social distancing rules.
At Dans la rue, we dealt with the public health crisis arising from the COVID-19 pandemic by adapting our services and keeping our doors open for homeless youth.
Dans la rue needed to continue to be a vital link for high-risk youth, despite new admittance protocols and hygiene measures, the required physical distancing and the smaller number of available spots. Our counsellors and teams were more creative in finding solutions to make up for the closure of many service partners and the reduction in resources. They pulled out all the stops to provide ongoing personal follow-up and kept on seeking out new ways of maintaining the fragile balance between basic needs and adapted psychosocial support.
“During the lockdown, Dans la rue saw youth who were hungry. With the social distancing rules in place and the new protocols to follow, counsellors had to rethink what the best conditions would be to continue to prioritize psychosocial services. Every day we managed to stay open was a victory!” ̶ Élizabeth Brosseau, Director of Services and Programs
The Dans la rue cafeteria switched over to cold “grab and go” meals, diversifying menus and doing everything possible to ensure food security in the middle of the pandemic, the effects of which put a strain on the physical and mental health of homeless youth.
Dans la rue’s showers and laundry facilities remained open, with additional hygiene measures in place, and prepaid grocery gift cards were distributed to young famillies enrolled in our Family Services. Dans la rue continues to find innovative ways to meet the urgent needs of homeless youth amid the public health crisis and in accordance with the instructions issued by government and public health authorities.
Mobile canteen during the pandemic:
- Mid-March to May – Given the average age of our volunteers, the Dans la rue Van had to temporarily shut down operations.
- June – The Van joined forces with Anonyme, the City of Montreal and the YMCA to hand out lunches and refreshments through a serving window seven days a week.
- July to September – On July 1, the Van resumed regular services, adding an extra stop and taking advantage of support from the City of Montreal to distribute bagged lunches.
Dans la rue has been very fortunate to be on the receiving end of our donors’ generosity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to emergency government grants and monetary donations, we have received a wide range of in-kind gifts, including bottled water, masks, disinfectant, protein bars and more. These donations have helped offset some of the additional expenses resulting from the pandemic. Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone for their support.
We are lucky to be able to count on our faithful and generous group of donors, but financial insecurity remains an issue for Dans la rue in the current circumstances.
The challenges we are up against these days are considerable, at a time when the homeless youth in Montreal need our help more than ever.