Everyday we hear stories that shape what we know about the communities we serve. These stories tell us about the lives of the people we serve, the barriers they face and the strategies they choose to use as they navigate complex social service systems. Personal and identifying details have been changed to ensure privacy.
COVID-19 Food Security Stories
The Power of Networks
The COVID-19 Pandemic highlights issues of poverty across our communities and demonstrates the intersections between issues. Isolation resulting from COVID-19 precautions and poverty, create unique risks for seniors and vulnerable people. However, long-standing partnerships and strong systems enable us to work quickly with our partners to ensure populations at risk can access the services they need during this difficult time.
In March, a woman from the Toronto area called into a national radio program that was hosting a discussion on how people are coping during the initial COVID-19 emergency. The woman told the show’s producer and host that she was shut in due to her age and social isolation protocols. She hadn’t eaten in several days, had only dry food and no one to help.
The show’s host contacted a friend who works at the City of Toronto for help. The friend contacted a City run food collaboration that 211 Central is part of. This program wasn’t able to help the woman but connected 211 to the issue to ensure it was resolved. Within minutes, 211 staff had a plan in place with the Red Cross to deliver food and continue to follow up with the woman. The caller’s immediate needs were met and she was pulled into a service system that can support her longer term needs, proving again that there is no wrong door to service.
First Time Navigation Needs
Early in March, one Toronto bartender/server became sick with bronchitis and, due to fears around COVID-19, her employer ordered her to stay home. Then the restaurant closed. The server doesn’t know when, or if, it will reopen.
A week after losing her income, she called 211 for help meeting her basic needs. Like so many Torontonians, the caller didn’t know how she would pay her rent on the 1st. In the meantime, she needed food.
The caller needed to find a food bank in her immediate area. But like restaurants, many food banks have closed due to COVID-19. 211’s Service Navigator found one that was be open through a food collaboration that 211 and other service providers initiated as part of COVID-19 response. The Service Navigator told the caller to call and verify whether it was open so she wouldn’t waste a trip, and encouraged her to call 211 again, as food banks and other services are constantly changing to meet communities’ needs during this crisis.
With the caller’s immediate food security needs handled, the Service Navigator then gave her the numbers she needed to weather her financial crisis. She directed the caller to Health Canada’s information line, and to Service Canada’s dedicated Employment Insurance phone line to see if she qualifies. She also advised the caller to contact the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Practices Branch about her employer’s order to stay at home despite no COVID-19 diagnosis.
By keeping on top of rapidly changing programs and services, 211 was able to help a worker from a hard-hit industry meet her immediate basic needs and longer-term financial needs.
Food Insecure & Anxious Senior
With many more Torontonians struggling to make ends meet these last few weeks, food insecurity has risen. For seniors who were already living on fixed incomes the situation is even more precarious.
A West End senior called 211 saying she badly needed food. The Service Navigator asked probing questions and learned that the caller was living on Old Age Security and was housebound by medical conditions. Probing further, she learned that the senior was able to prepare meals if she had groceries. But until her next OAS payment (in over a week), she had no money or food, and had started to panic. The pandemic was also understandably affecting her emotions. She was crying while asking for help.
The Service Navigator consoled the senior by explaining the role of mobile food banks. The woman was so anxious and vulnerable that, with her permission, the Service Navigator called a mobile food bank and personally advocated on her behalf. The staff assured the Service Navigator that they would get groceries to the senior immediately.
The senior was so happy and relieved. She thanked the Service Navigator profusely, even saying “Thank you, honey! May God bless you!” The Service Navigator told her to call back any time she needs any help in coming days.
The Service Navigator could have just referred this caller to a mobile food bank to meet her food security needs. Instead, with compassion and care, she also helped ease the fear and anxiety of a vulnerable and isolated senior.
COVID-19 Housing Assistance Stories
Tenant Needing Help with Rent, Income & Home Support
Older adults are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. But even before the crisis, many Toronto seniors were vulnerable. Socially isolated seniors are at risk of negative health indicators such as inactivity. Isolation may also have psychological and cognitive impacts.
In early June, a 211 Service Navigator took a call from a Toronto landlord who was worried about her elderly tenant. He had not paid his rent for five months, and although she had given him a face mask he was still afraid to take public transit to the bank. The landlord also expressed her concern for the senior’s living conditions. She explained that he is a loner, that he has no phone or computer access, and that he had not applied for Old Age Security or the Canada Pension Plan because he assumed the benefits would automatically be given to him. The caller wanted to know of any services that might be able to help.
The Service Navigator acknowledged the caller’s kindness in helping her tenant, then referred her to information and organizations that would help him get rent payment assistance and the retirement benefits he deserves. She also referred the caller to the Toronto Local Health Integration Network and the Vulnerable Adult and Seniors Team of Toronto Public Health, who could assess the senior’s ability to care for himself and address any personal care needs. The caller thanked the Service Navigator for her patience and emotional support.
With 211’s help, the caller was able to not only help a tenant address his immediate and long-term financial needs, but also help a vulnerable, isolated senior keep his housing and access care services to improve his quality of life.
COVID-19 Health Needs Stories
Navigating the New Normal
Many people are anxious and wondering if they should wear face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. For those who have an underlying medical condition that puts them at higher risk if they contract the illness, that anxiety is even greater.
A Toronto woman called 211 because both she and her spouse have severe health issues and wanted to get masks and gloves. Both are Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients, and the caller wanted to know if any services would provide these medical items free.
The Service Navigator could tell that the caller was terrified of getting the virus because both she and her spouse have medical conditions that put them at higher risk. But she also realized it was important to let the caller know that personal protective equipment is in such high demand right now that it might be hard to find — even hospital staff working to save the lives of those with COVID-19 have dangerously short supplies.
The Service Navigator suggested that the caller and her spouse first contact their ODSP caseworkers, because they may be eligible for additional, discretionary funds that have been made available to support people through COVID-19 and might cover these medical supplies. Then, knowing that both have harm reduction programs and might be able to help or refer the caller, the Service Navigator recommended she contact Toronto Public Health and the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.
She also directed the caller to the Public Health Agency of Canada for reliable and credible COVID-19 information. Even if the caller is unable to obtain masks and gloves, information will at least help keep her and her spouse safe, and perhaps also calm their fear.
Pregnant Newcomer in Need of a Doctor during COVID-19
Torontonians know how challenging it is to find a doctor in this city. The challenge is even greater for newcomers, who may lack the social networks needed to learn about doctors accepting new patients. And these days, because of physical distancing rules, doctors may be unable to accommodate their current patients let alone take on new ones.
A pregnant newcomer called 211 because, although she had private healthcare insurance, she was having trouble finding a doctor. She had tried contacting Health Care Connect, which refers Ontarians to doctors who may be accepting new patients, but had been unable to connect with anyone there. Although she was still within the 14-day mandatory self-isolation required after her arrival from Dubai, the caller was starting to feel anxious about getting medical care soon, as she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.
On the woman’s behalf, the Service Navigator called two nearby walk-in clinics, and although they were taking calls both said they could not accept private insurance. The Service Navigator then called the South Riverdale Community Health Centre to connect the caller with its MATCH program (Midwifery and Toronto Community Health) for newcomers and pregnant women. The Service Navigator made a “warm transfer,” connecting the caller with a midwife who did an immediate intake interview. Before handing her over to the midwife, she told the caller that even with her private insurance she should also connect with Service Ontario about the OHIP services available to newcomers during the pandemic.
With the help of 211, a very pregnant newcomer was able to find prenatal, labour, birth, and postpartum care for herself and her soon-to-arrive child, even during this crisis.
COVID-19 Family Service Stories
Woman Fleeing Domestic Violence during COVID-19
We’ve all been told to stay home to keep COVID-19 from overwhelming our healthcare system. But what if you’re not safe at home? For women who are in abusive relationships, having to stay home puts them at greater risk. That’s been confirmed by reports of increased domestic violence rates worldwide since the pandemic’s start.
In April, a 211 Service Navigator received a call from a Toronto woman who needed to access a shelter immediately. She had been experiencing abuse from her partner, and the police were called. Although the woman was safe in a hotel at the time of her call, she feared for her safety once her abusive partner was released from police custody. This woman was particularly vulnerable because she has a physical disabled. Women with disabilities experience forms of abuse that other women don’t — for example, they may be prevented from using mobility or medical devices.
The Service Navigator probed and learned that the woman had not been in touch with any shelters, so on her behalf she called the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, which provides Toronto women with shelter referrals. The Service Navigator explained the situation to the helpline operator before making a “warm transfer” on the woman’s behalf.
These are scary and uncertain times for all of us, but for at least one woman experiencing domestic abuse, that added level of fear ended when she was able to access a space where she would be safe from violence.
COVID-19 Mental Health Support Stories
Finding Mental Health Support for a Friend During COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental well-being of many of us. Agencies are reporting increased requests for support around anxiety, isolation, substance abuse, and domestic violence, and a recent poll found that Canadians are feeling “unprecedented levels” of anxiety. Many people who lived with mental illness pre-pandemic have seen their symptoms worsen.
In early May, a Service Navigator received a call from a Toronto woman looking to support a friend. The caller explained that her friend suffers from depression and anxiety, and she had been struggling during the pandemic. But her friend’s anxiety skyrocketed upon hearing that the City of Toronto had cancelled more summer events; she felt that all her plans were being cancelled. The caller had heard about 211 on the news a few days earlier and called to learn how to help, because her friend’s usual support was not available.
The Service Navigator told the caller that many agencies are offering counselling over the phone and telephone support lines, and asked probing questions to get a better sense of which would be most appropriate. The caller felt that her friend would benefit most from a support line — she could reach out whenever she needed. The Service Navigator found a few options and provided the agencies’ contact information. She also encouraged the caller to tell her friend about 211 in case she needed further support, and welcomed the caller to call back if she needed anything else.
We’re all doing the best we can to keep it together in this time, but sometimes we need a little support. With 211’s assistance, this caller was able to help a friend in need find the supports she needs when her anxiety gets the best of her.