A woman with dark hair pulled back wears a blue surgical mask and a plaid blouse. She stands in front of a red brick wall and holds up a sign that reads "Thank you for helping vulnerable women and children during COVID-19."

Over the last few months during the pandemic and ensuing shutdown, the public has adopted several sayings: “We’re all in this together,” “We’re all in the same boat,” “Things will get back to normal soon.” At social services agencies like Mission Services we know that while these phrases are intended to be comforting, they do not reflect how our neighbours have experienced this pandemic.

As Hamilton returns to “normal,” as businesses open, as people are able to gather again, Mission Services will continue to experience the fallout from this crisis. The increased number of people who rely on our services may never come down.

Mission Services is working hard to serve those in need well during these difficult times. We are appreciative of your support and concern for our neighbours and want to update you on how are our programs have been affected.

At our Good Food Centre (GFC), staff are deeply committed to ensuring that during these difficult times, all community members seeking Emergency Food Assistance are being served with dignity and safety. Participants are served pre-packaged groceries outside, to maintain social distancing. We have seen over 350 new families since the pandemic and closures of businesses began. In addition to this, to support families with children who would normally be able to access meal programs, we have had to increase the amount of food we have on hand.

At Willow’s Place, due to capacity restrictions, women who have some form of housing are served in different ways – through daily phone check-ins, by offering all meals as take-out, supplying additional toiletries, and helping with any other needs they might have. This allows the women who have nowhere else to turn to use Willow’s as their shelter. In spite of the space restrictions, we continue to see an average of 30 women throughout the day, as well as up to 12 women a day who receive take-out for all their daily meals.

Our Men’s Shelter has had to reduce the number of men in our main location in order to accommodate physical distancing. At the direction of the City of Hamilton, Men’s Services is also managing a 75-bed shelter at a local hotel. It is more important now than ever before to assist people in finding housing, so they are not living in congregate settings, which can increase the risk of contracting the virus. This is why launching Housing UP!, in the midst of the pandemic has been so critical. We are proud of this program’s work and we are pleased to note that already, the Housing UP! and the Men’s Shelter teams have been able to find housing for almost two dozen formerly homeless or precariously-housed men.

At Inasmuch House, this time has been unprecedented for women’s shelters and the violence against women sector. Unfortunately, home is not always a safe place for women and children. With decreased connection to friends and family for support, staying at home with abusers can cause increased and heightened incidents of abuse. With this in mind, Mission Services launched a new and innovative method of reaching out to women and offering support and assistance through text messaging, which may prove very useful for their services going forward.

Suntrac staff help participants with intake, one-on-one sessions, check-ins, and helping them achieve their goals over the phone. Though the cancellation of group counseling and supports has been stressful on some, many participants have noted that being able to access help over the phone has made seeking out help in moments of struggle easier.

Finally, the staff of the 196 Youth Program have worked hard to engage community youth, and ensure they don’t feel alone. Kits of various kinds with fun educational supports have been delivered to our youth’s porches regularly, and volunteers, with staff, have been engaging with youth over the phone to check in, and help with homework.

These remarkable circumstances are shining a light on the “normal” stress, danger, and uncertainty experienced by our low-income neighbours every day. The pandemic and ensuing shutdown has created high levels of anxiety for many people. When you add the additional pressures for those already coping with significant mental health challenges, this stress can feel insurmountable.

We believe this is an opportunity to create a “new normal”. Pandemic or not, everyone deserves the dignity and stability of food and housing security. Thank you for your ongoing support of our programs and services. We hope you are well and safe.

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