Working on the front lines of a resurging pandemic

Adrienne Paddock is a case manager at Shepherds of Good Hope. She has seen the realities of what it’s like working to serve individuals experiencing homelessness in the midst of a pandemic. Read her story here:

I find the new year brings with it a time for reflection. And as we enter 2022, the realities that our sector has faced the last couple of years have hit me hard.

You see, Ottawa has been in a housing and homelessness state of emergency since January 2020. Since the state of emergency was declared, we’ve seen a global pandemic, an increasingly toxic drug supply and skyrocketing housing prices.

With your help, Shepherds of Good Hope has worked through these outbreaks, lockdowns, and an increasingly toxic drug supply. The people we support have been remarkably resilient, but we see the impacts of these challenges in increased mental health crises, the fact that people are using more dangerous substances and more often, and increased overdose deaths.

I can’t lie, we’re exhausted. Honestly, exhausted is about 5 miles back in the rearview mirror.

Throughout the past couple of years, there have been many times we have felt powerless as frontline workers. Sometimes we want to rage against a system that seems to set people up to fail – there are just so many barriers.

We see people who have been evicted with nowhere else to go in a pandemic, people who are fleeing domestic violence, people who have come from situations so dire that a homeless shelter in an unfamiliar city seems like the better option.

When people come to us seeking support, we have to be careful not to retraumatize them. We focus on small achievable wins: getting identification documents; filing their taxes; connecting with mental health providers, doctors, and dentists; and applying for income supports. Things that many of us take for granted, but are really a big first-step to getting the individuals we serve stabilized. We want to help people access housing supports as quickly as possible because the reality is, the longer people stay in an emergency shelter, the harder it becomes to get them back into stable and permanent housing. A shelter is not a home for anyone.

Affordability is a tough one – I am sure, like me, you have seen the housing prices in your neighborhood substantially increase over the past couple of years. During the pandemic we have seen so many people accessing our community soup kitchen for the first time. While they fight hard to keep a roof over their head, they ultimately run out of money for groceries.

It’s often challenging to find safe and permanent housing for people on social assistance or disability.

And even when we find a private market unit that is affordable, stigma is a huge barrier. Stigma against people experiencing homelessness, or on disability support, means that sometimes our service users are turned away by landlords and from what we consider to be good housing options. The prejudice, isolation, and lack of acceptance is too much for many to overcome.

But, because the landscape is so grim, we have to hold onto the glimpses of hope and positivity when we find them.

We’ve lost so many people to overdose deaths during the pandemic. The isolation of COVID has had a profound effect on our people and our sector that will be felt for years to come. It is not an exaggeration to say that affordable housing is a matter of life and death. It’s our daily reality.

One of our brightest points for me this past year was made possible thanks to the generous support of our donors! In the spring of last year, we were able to move people into our new supportive housing building, Richcraft Hope Residence on Montreal Road. This supportive housing facility was made possible through your past donations. We saw 42 individuals permanently move out of the shelter system and into a place of their own.

I remember the first time I visited Richcraft Hope Residence, I couldn’t believe the pride and purpose I saw from those living there. Service users that we’d only ever interacted with when they were very intoxicated were sitting outside with a coffee and talking about how beautiful the day was. They looked healthy. They had colour and life in their faces.

We can give everyone who is staying in our shelter that happy ending – a promise of a new home – but only with your support! With your help we must continue this momentum and not stop building affordable and supportive housing until we cross the finish line of ending homelessness in Ottawa.

It is our responsibility to support our neighbours. And right now, the people I work with need you. We have no time to waste. With you by our side, we can transform the status of homelessness in our city.

With sincerest gratitude and hope for the new year,

Adrienne Paddock
Case Manager
Shepherds of Good Hope