Pandemic restrictions bring more hardship for vulnerable Manitobans already feeling isolated
'For many persons with disabilities … social isolation is status quo,' says support worker Carlos Sosa
For many Manitobans, this holiday season will be very different from previous years.
In order to protect public health, it has been recommended that we restrict our contacts and gatherings to within households.
Over this last year as a society, we have all had to alter our lifestyles to lead a more isolated way of life due the COVID-19 pandemic. Our entertainment options have been narrowed and restrictions have been placed on where we can gather.
This has left Manitobans feeling isolated and struggling with mental health issues.
Yet for many persons with disabilities, this form of social isolation is status quo — the norm in their daily lives.
As a support worker, I support people living with intellectual disabilities, who live independently in the community. This isolation is something that many of my clients encounter on a daily basis.
Many of the supported individuals I work with live in poverty and are limited in their choices. People living with disabilities disproportionately live in poverty and have a high unemployment rate. Employment and Income Assistance is an option that a lot of people with disabilities rely on for their daily survival.
With in-person service being restricted … [my client] has effectively been frozen out of society.- Carlos Sosa
But the benefits provided by Employment and Income Assistance are inadequate and do not facilitate the inclusion of our most vulnerable in the community.
The meagre amount that is paid to people on income assistance does not allow for them to afford to do social things like go to movies or eat out, things that are essential for our mental health. The pandemic has only compounded this challenge.
Over this last year, as a society we have been forced to move online for limited interaction.
As a result, some Manitobans have complained about the inconveniences caused by the pandemic lock down restrictions, calling them infringements on their human rights.
It probably never occurred to these people that this violation happens on a daily basis to many vulnerable people who are less able to deal with it. For them, this struggle existed even prior to the pandemic.
One of my clients, for example, lives in Winnipeg's inner city, has no close family and is extremely limited this year in his options for the holiday season. With in-person service being restricted at libraries to just pickups and returns, swimming pools being closed and services at shopping malls being restricted, he has effectively been frozen out of society.
This is because those social activities are the only ones he can afford. The contents of his apartment are a TV, a bed, a table and a couch. When things are closed, his only option is to sit in front of his TV all day, being bored, because he has nothing else to do.
Another client I work with is not able to participate in his apartment's Zoom Christmas party this year, because he does not have the funds to purchase a computer or even access the internet.
Before March, my client had very few options. Going to concerts, going to museums and checking out farmers' markets would be completely out of reach for him — and for many of our most vulnerable. Accessing healthy and nutritious food was also a significant barrier for him, and he would also rely on food banks to get by.
Part of the equation
With the mental health crisis that we are in, many of our most vulnerable are not considered as part of the equation. This holiday season will be difficult — especially with the limited options available to our most vulnerable populations.
As many of the supports have moved online, our most vulnerable have remained frozen out of our communities and society.
In conclusion, I hope those people who are out demonstrating against the COVID-19 restrictions as an infringement on their freedom give a thought to the others.
The ones who, by the demonstrators' own yardstick, have their rights violated every day.
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there:
Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Or contact Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. CT only) | crisisservicescanada.ca