Thanks to the United Way of Greater Toronto’s Emergency Community Support Funding, Elizabeth Fry Toronto has been able to deliver mobile outreach in collaboration with
PASAN, Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy (OAHAS) and Thunder Women Healing Lodge Society (TWHLS). Our collaborative efforts will continue to help enhance E Fry Toronto’s organizational practices and build our capacity to create safer and inclusive access to our programs and services for women who self-identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). This project was launched February 2021 and will continue until March 31, 2021.
Lack of Access
There is disproportionate amount of BIPOC community members that are unable to access traditional health care and social services. This is due to specific challenges and barriers that the BIPOC community continues to face. These barriers include but are not limited to lack of transportation, unemployment, discrimination, trauma, stigma, involvement with the criminal justice system, mental health challenges, substance use and poverty. COVID-19 has exacerbated these barriers and has increased social isolation for these community members. People who are incarcerated that are released from correctional facilities in Canada receive minimal support when re-entering into society. This can affect their overall social determinants of health and they are often left to endure a substantial amount of challenges along their journey to reintegration.
These challenges automatically limit access to employment, housing, education, healthcare, and increases the risks one must take in order to survive. We want to shift focus from re-incarceration to sustainable re-integration back into society, when it relates to individuals affected by the criminal justice system. Creating a mobile outreach team has helped us to address some of these barriers that make it difficult for folks to access necessary services and have a sustainable livelihood. We have built a multi-agency peer-led support network to reduce the pandemic related social isolation faced by BIPOC women who have been or are at increased risk of being in conflict with the law utilizing in harm reduction principles and street outreach approaches to service delivery.
Reaching BIPOC Communities
Our street outreach van travels to different parts of Toronto connecting with women who identify as BIPOC that are street involved, homeless, living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, self-identify as women who use drugs, dealing with mental health challenges, income and food insecurity, isolation and significant barriers to accessing services due to COVID-19. Through a peer-to-peer support model, we engage the lived expertise of the community members we seek to serve. We have had the pleasure of supporting members in the community from Port Union & Kingston Road to as far as Yonge & Gerrard.
Benefits of Mobile Outreach
Having an outreach van has made it easier for us to serve multiple neighbourhoods in Toronto and Scarborough and travel to different areas in the community. With the support of our Harm Reduction Outreach Workers, we are able to gain trust, build collaborative relationships, and raise awareness, reducing harm and risk, and foster connections throughout the community. We are committed to meeting clients where they' re at and providing them with the supports and services that they are in greatest need of.
Our Harm Reduction Outreach Workers distribute brochures, harm reduction supplies, grocery cards and personal care items at shelters, motels, drop-in centres, schools, injection sites and different areas across the city that clients have identified as being convenient and comfortable for them. We provide referrals to agencies and other social services like shelters, food banks, detox centres, harm reduction sites, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, warming centres, mental health crisis support and treatment centres, counselling supports, drop ins, legal assistance and employment.
Engaging People with Lived Expertise in Service Delivery
Engaging people with lived expertise in the delivery of programs and services can be a mutually beneficial experience for both the agency providing the services as well as the front-line staff delivering the supports. As an organization that values mutual learning and accountability, peer-to-peer support helps us create more meaningful program delivery and increases our capacity to work with diverse groups. Peer workers often have extensive skills and knowledge gained through life experiences that can help us ensure that we are providing relevant resources and services that will be beneficial to the people we serve. Speaking about the work undertaken by the outreach van, one of our Harm Reduction Workers says, “The community we serve is always struggling to meet their basic needs… food, shelter, mental health but right now they are struggling fifty to hundred folds more. It feels good to able to give people more than just harm reduction supplies. They need every bit of the things we are able to give out right now and more.”
What Some of the Women We've Served Had to Say
“It helps me a lot due to COVID since I’m out of work and I truly appreciate the gift cards because I can buy groceries”
“Thank you for providing this Outreach Program to myself as a Senior and to others in our Community at Gabriel Dumont. It helps so very much.”
“The services are helpful to myself and the community because due to the pandemic a lot of people have lost their jobs making it hard to make ends meet. What’s especially helpful is the hygiene products such as pads & the gift cards so that we can buy groceries. Thank you again for your hard work during these unprecedented times. It is greatly appreciated.”