Vulnerable populations being hit hard by Omicron, say N.L. community groups

·3 min read
Paul Davis, executive director of the Gathering Place in St. John's, says the spike in COVID-19 is limiting services in place to help the most vulnerable population. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Paul Davis, executive director of the Gathering Place in St. John's, says the spike in COVID-19 is limiting services in place to help the most vulnerable population. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Rising COVID-19 cases and changing restrictions have once again hit community service centres across Newfoundland and Labrador, forcing them to adapt to help the province's most vulnerable populations.

At the Gathering Place in St. John's, which normally sees hundreds of people come in for shelter, a hot meal or appointments with case workers each day, it's meant the closure of dine-in services, the suspension of programs, limiting the number of people who can enter the space and continuing only essential services.

"As the COVID levels increase, the ripple effect gets larger and more complex and more challenging," said Gathering Place director Paul Davis.

"It's really hard on the guests for us to have to restrict the access.… But we understand that we have to provide a service that's safe, that doesn't compromise or provide any risk to not only our guests but our volunteers and staff."

Davis said things have been busy at the Gathering Place through the new year, most recently serving around 3,000 meals per week.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

The restrictions also come at a time when some guests are already facing higher stress levels from the holiday season.

The group's homeless shelter is full most nights, Davis said, but the Gathering Place also works with people from all walks of life.

"We also have guests who come here who rely on part-time work. So we have many who would be working in restaurants or those types of service industries that have now lost that little bit of employment that they've had," he said.

"Their reliance on the Gathering Place and our programs and services has increased and become more necessary for them as well."

There are these impacts, but at the end of the day we're still here. And we're seeing that people are looked after. - Maj. Rene Loveless

The need is also being seen at Salvation Army centres across the province, according to spokesperson Maj. Rene Loveless.

"We've learned some things along the way, and where we've adjusted our programs right now … is to the point where we've been in the past," he said.

"We certainly long for and hope for the days when things can return to the way we'd like to operate, but for now we have to do this safely."

Like the Gathering Place, the Salvation Army has had to shift to closing its dining halls to in-person meals. Meals will continue to be shared through takeout.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

The food bank at the St. John's Centre of Hope will also remain open along with community and family services, with care workers available virtually or in person by appointment.

Although each day comes with challenges, both Loveless and Davis say they're not giving up offering help to people in need.

"The main thing is we find a way to safely serve the vulnerable populations with the help that they need, the services we provide during these times," Loveless said.

"There are these impacts, but at the end of the day we're still here. And we're seeing that people are looked after."

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