Edmonton social agencies collaborate with province to support areas hardest hit by pandemic

Edmonton social agencies are collaborating with the provincial government to deliver support to nine Edmonton communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

Strategy coordinated by Red Cross taps into existing networks and expertise of agencies

Care packages will be delivered by the Africa Centre and other Edmonton agencies that already deliver food hampers to hundreds of clients. (Submitted by the Africa Centre)

Edmonton non-profit agencies are collaborating with the provincial government to deliver support to nine Edmonton communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

The government initiative being coordinated by 20 Red Cross staff was developed with input from Edmonton city council.

Plans include delivering care packages to households with masks, sanitizer and providing information in 10 languages about public health restrictions and available support.

The C5 North East Hub is among groups that will help distribute packages next week when they deliver about 720 food hampers and gifts to clients as part of their ongoing pantry program.

Corinne Saad, executive director of C5, said there are a range of needs among clients who self-isolate from the delivery of food to medicine and activities for the kids

Providing information is key for people who are isolated or not fluent in English, she said.

"They don't know what's going on. They feel frightened. They feel having COVID is stigmatizing. They don't know what their next steps should be," said Saad.

"So that sort of gap in information that we as agencies try to fill, having that now translated by the government into one concise sheet that we're able to give out to people is great."

There are nine areas in Edmonton and two in Calgary that are included in the new initiative:

  • Calgary, Upper Northeast
  • Calgary, Lower Northeast
  • Edmonton, Northeast
  • Edmonton, Northgate
  • Edmonton, Castle Downs
  • Edmonton, Woodcroft West
  • Edmonton, Woodcroft East
  • Edmonton, Jasper Place
  • Edmonton, Eastwood
  • Edmonton, Abbottsfield
  • Edmonton, Mill Woods West

Saad was among representatives from non-profit organizations who attended a virtual town hall Wednesday with Premier Jason Kenney and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to decide how best to serve the needs of residents in impacted neighbourhoods who face additional barriers in preventing the spread.

Barriers include language, employment in public-facing jobs and higher density living arrangements due to below-average incomes, the government said.

Care teams going to people's doors will talk through restrictions and ways to access support.

Yvonne Chiu, the co-executive director of the Multicultural Health Broker Co-operative, said it would be beneficial to learn from the Calgary model where outreach teams are connected to contact tracers.

She suggested "recruiting or training a team of community outreach workers to work closely with the communicable disease team so we could promptly provide the support such as need for food or isolation, hotel or other financial needs."

Nine hotels are available in the city for people who test positive without the means to self-isolate. The stay includes culturally appropriate food and $625 in financial aid.

"I do happen to know of some people who have said to me, you know, 'I don't really want to get a test and I don't really want to know if I have it, because I can't want to I can't afford to miss work'," said Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard.

Dave Kaiser, president of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association said hotels have been provided with information to ensure the safety of staff and guests like providing extra towels and larger garbage bags to cut down on staff going into rooms.

Recovery plan needed

At the Africa Centre, where volunteers are also distributing packages, executive director Sharif Haji commended the government for creating a program based on evidence that identifies the social determinants behind higher infection rates.

He said he learned at Wednesday's meeting that more data will be shared in the next two weeks.

"How do you control the pandemic? You need to know what the cause is, and you need to know what the cause of those causes are, so that you can address that," Haji said. 

He highlighted the importance of implementing a similarly robust strategy to the same areas during the recovery stage as well.

"Otherwise, it will cost us as a community quite a lot to get people back to their feet," Haji said.

In a media release, Madu thanked community leaders "for helping Alberta's government develop a caring and compassionate strategy that addresses the needs of their respective communities. 

"We will overcome the challenge of this pandemic, and we will do it together."

With files from Andrew Jeffrey and Lucie Edwardson