COVID-19 closures having bigger impact on most vulnerable, says women's society head

The executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society says the territory's most vulnerable population are facing a far different set of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bree Denning says it's important not to judge those who may have to leave home, as home might not be safe

Yellowknife Women's Society executive director Bree Denning says that it's important to keep the most vulnerable in mind when issuing guidelines for social isolation, or ordering closures of facilities or services during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

While many residents across the Northwest Territories are self-isolating and stocking up on supplies for the COVID-19 pandemic, the executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society says the territory's most vulnerable are facing a far different set of challenges.

"I think a lot of the recommendations that have come out have come from people who are concerned about the pandemic, and rightly so, but they're not necessarily aware of a lot of the other risk factors that people face," Bree Denning said.

That includes addictions, and food and housing insecurity for those living paycheque to paycheque. 

Denning said closures of community facilities like the Yellowknife Public Library and the shuttering of some social programming are having an outsized impact on her clients.

She said there are also less obvious ripple effects, such as the potential closure of liquor stores leaving those addicted to alcohol at risk of withdrawal impacts like seizures.

Those trying to maintain sobriety being hit the hardest, Denning says

A big part of sobriety is about being part of a fellowship, accessing AA meetings, counselling, and on-the-land programming, Denning added. 

"We're definitely weighing the risks between social distancing and infection," she said. "I see it affecting people who are trying to maintain their sobriety the hardest."

 "It's easy in self-isolation to get bored, or to get anxious, and many of us turn to alcohol to deal with that."

Denning said she understands why the public health measures are being put in place, and noted that Facebook groups where Yellowknife residents have offered donations and services to those in need have been noticed by those accessing the Women's Society's programming.

"That was so meaningful for the women that we serve. It showed that the community is paying attention and it does care about them, and they're going to be taken care of."

'Home might not be a safe place to be'

However, she asked the community to avoid passing judgement on people leaving their homes, as they could be escaping a potentially dangerous situation, or have needs that need to be taken care of elsewhere.

"We need to make sure that we're not judging folks who are leaving their homes for whatever reason. Because home might not be a safe place to be."

Denning said the Women's Society intends to keep its programming running "for as long as possible," and noted that she expects a plan from the territorial government to take care of those showing symptoms without homes. 

"Reach out to us, I guess is the message to people who are struggling," she said. "We'll do our best to help."

Written by Garrett Hinchey, based on an interview by Alyssa Mosher produced by Avery Zingel