(Submitted by the Africa Centre)
A group of agencies in Edmonton are teaming up to help residents in hard-hit neighbourhoods overcome barriers and cope with COVID-19.
The collaborative framework involves 12 organizations already helping people with mental health supports, food, and housing, now coming together to coordinate the effort in more than 40 languages.
The Action for Healthy Communities Society of Alberta, which leads the initiative, submitted a proposal to the City of Edmonton requesting $1.5 million in grant funding to run programs until the end of December 2021. Council's executive committee is scheduled to review the proposal at a meeting next week.
Maria Angelica Quesada, co-chair on the collaboration's steering committee, is also the research lead at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, one of the agencies involved.
Quesada said the joint effort aims to connect residents diagnosed with COVID-19 or isolating close contacts to resources to help them through quarantine.
"So they can isolate properly and with dignity," Quesada said Friday.
For example, some outreach workers could deliver culturally-appropriate food to a person or family in isolation while others might provide advice to those with employment-related obstacles.
"Sometimes they have lost their jobs or sometimes they don't know how to communicate to their boss that they are COVID positive and what are their rights," Quesada said.
Many people affected by COVID-19 are part of distinct ethnic groups, she noted, including front-line and health care workers.
Other agencies in the collaboration include Multicultural Healthbrokers, the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, the Islamic Family Services Association and the Africa Centre.
Quesada said each agency is already helping people through the pandemic but the effort has been done in silos.
"So instead of keep trying to respond individually and patchy, we decided it's better we get together," she said.
Suzanne Gross with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers said outreach workers will help supplement community-based food programs to make sure people have cultural foods that will support their recovery.
Agencies are also contributing mental health and employment support, she said.
Part of provincial plan
The funding stems from the provincial government's December initiative that saw volunteers go door-to-door providing care kits to residents in the city's hardest-hit areas.
The City of Edmonton received $1.6 million from the province to implement the community engagement plan, which included convening a community outreach table to determine how to spend the amount remaining after care kit distribution. The proposed collaboration was created as a result of those discussions.
The provincial strategy focuses on neighbourhoods with higher numbers of newcomers who might encounter English-language barriers and includes lower-income households whose members may work in direct contact with the public, putting them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
The government also identified higher density accommodations, such as multi-generational households, as areas of focus.
Other groups helping the new collaboration include the Food Bank, Amity House and the Canadian Native Friendship Centre.
Ron Walker, director of the CNFC, said broader engagement and outreach must be done by those groups and organizations that are members of the affected communities.
"We all have very different roles in this initiative. However, at the end of the day, we are all trying to collaborate by offering outreach services to our very distinct ethnic groups."
Walker said the CNFC is part of the implementation group and will be offering outreach workers to effectively assist the Indigenous community.
Starts with a call
The outreach network would establish a portal or call centre based at the Action for Healthy Communities Society of Alberta. The 1-833-738-7727 number is not yet in use but is expected to go into service should council approve the funding request.
Callers will have the option of selecting from among 40 languages, including Swahili, Punjabi, Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Burmese as well as Indigenous languages including Nehiyawak (Cree), Sukapi (Black Foot), Dene and Inuit.
A committee report outlines positions for the next 10 months, such as a project coordinator, 15 outreach workers, a data entry assistant and two call centre staff.
The outreach collaboration aims to help approximately 600 people a month.
Hotspots and beyond
The agencies based their preliminary plan on nine areas of Edmonton that the province identified as COVID-19 hotspots. As of January, those included a cluster of communities in the northeast, southeast and central parts of the city.
Quesada said the outreach will evolve to be able to respond city-wide.
If council agrees to the framework, the hub is expected to start operating in mid-February and anticipates providing support for more than 7,000 individuals and families.
The project is slated to be completed by Dec. 31, 2021 with the city submitting progress updates and final reporting to the province.