It has been over a year since we first heard the words “COVID-19” and “global pandemic” but with similar levels of restrictions imposed in Ontario (and other parts of Canada) this past week, it feels like little has changed since last March. With most of us commiserating over similar emotions, experiences and frustrations, we wanted to share how the pandemic has affected those from a different walk of life – vulnerable youth and more specifically, the at-risk and homeless youth that we have the privilege to work with.
Over the past year, most of us have leaned on our loved ones for support whether through virtual hangouts or more frequent telephone calls but for those without healthy or reliable family relationships, the feelings of isolation and loneliness are magnified. Marginalized youth typically have strained relationships with their families (at best) but with the universally exhausting toll repeated lockdowns, restrictions and employment anxiety have had, many of those relationships have become even more fractured. And what youth used to be able to do to cope with these challenges, such as going to the movies, going out to eat, visiting friends, have been taken away which leaves mental health risks caused by extreme isolation and loneliness at an all-time high.
But that doesn’t mean services have increased to support these extreme mental and emotional health challenges; in fact, services have been reduced and made more difficult to access. Case workers, social workers, housing coordinators are all exhausted from constant meetings online and without the ability to just drop into centres for support, many vulnerable youth have been left largely on their own. One of our youth has had repeated safety concerns with their roommate but without the ability to speak as frequently or sometimes directly with a worker (either housing or social), they have been left in a dire living situation that has, at times, forced them to pay for hotel stays in light of safety concerns (none of which is reimbursed).
For many of our youth, education has been another mental health issue.
Many marginalized youth already have challenges with traditional learning but without the support of parents who can step in and offer a helping hand, youth have had to struggle through online classes alone. This has prompted feelings of despair and has even caused youth to drop out because the challenge of adapting to the virtual classroom without support is too great. Also, without the comfortable domestic homes that many of us may take for granted, many at-risk and homeless youth rely on coffee shops and libraries to study all of which have been shut down, forcing youth to do homework and prepare for schooling in sometimes challenging environments.
"Work is the only thing keeping me sane right now."
So while this year has been a challenge for all of us, we are thankful for the support that you have been able to provide so we can continue to do what we do to help the less fortunate in our community. One of our youth artisans recently said that “work is the only thing keeping me sane right now” and although it is a compliment to us for our work, it is also a testament to the mental health and emotional challenges that all our youth face amidst this health crisis. No matter who we are, we all are dealing with varying emotions of anxiety, loneliness, isolation, depression and exhaustion but we hope that we can still count blessings and find joy in the small things allowed to us.