Community and Social Services staff are working hard to protect the most vulnerable within the community.
As part of our mandate to provide essential services to residents, we are actively assessing the needs of the community during the COVID-19 outbreak and working in collaboration with our community and our partners.
A Human Needs Task Force has been struck as part of the City’s Emergency Management Plan and emergency response to COVID-19, ensuring we are responsive to the emerging needs of the community. This task force consolidates partners from all sectors, including United Way Eastern Ontario, Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa, Ottawa Community Housing, Ottawa Food Bank, The Good Companions, Canadian Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Ottawa Inner City Health, in addition to representatives from City departments, including Ottawa Public Health.
The scope of the task force is to:
- Plan for future scenarios, with considerations related to food security and vulnerable population needs, including housing, shelter and psychosocial supports.
- Coordinate service sector information related to services being provided, changes to services and emerging issues and needs.
- Raise issues, service gaps and community concerns to staff within Community and Social Services, other City departments and community partners for resolution. Partner and Stakeholder Initiatives staff are reaching out to the City’s 81 funded community agencies to obtain service delivery updates, assess needs and identify concerns for escalation to the Human Needs Tasks Force.
As a result, key priorities are emerging, including:
- Food security
- Outreach to isolated seniors
- Transportation of vulnerable residents to COVID-19 assessment centers and medical appointments
- Volunteer management to support community effort during a pandemic In terms of food security, the Ottawa Food Bank has confirmed 23 of the 26 food banks are operational.
Although contingency plans are in place for two of the food banks that are closed, they anticipate that additional locations will close in the coming weeks due to the lack of volunteers. Mitigation strategies are being developed, including obtaining access to City facilities as pick up locations for hampers, establishing mobile locations and increasing the number of volunteers. Information about how to access Ottawa Food Bank services is updated regularly on their website.
If you receive any messages about people interested in volunteering, please direct them to their Volunteer Hub. Isolated seniors are an emerging priority within the community. We will be working on identifying further support required for seniors.
As a result of COVID-19, The Good Companions is no longer open or using volunteers for services. Staff have been redirected to essential programming including telephone-based programs, providing check-in services and transportation services to isolated seniors. In addition, their program Senior Centres Without Walls is ramping up to respond to the emerging needs for transportation to emergency services, medical appointments and shopping, and for delivery of groceries, as well as Meals on Wheels. Please email them directly to access any services.
Finally, a need has been identified by our Community Health and Resource Centres around transportation of vulnerable residents to COVID-19 assessment centres and medical appointments. As a result, they are currently working with Ottawa Public Health and other community partners to assess the transportation needs.
As we continue to respond to the needs of the community during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Human Needs Task Force will remain mobilized. They will support regular communication and stakeholder engagement with residents, Councillors, community agencies and City departments, and will escalate inquiries and concerns and make recommendations for increased supports, including service sector involvement. In addition, through the delivery of City programs and services, staff within the Community and Social Services department are responding to the needs of residents as follows:
Employment and Social Services continues to deliver essential services. Financial assistance may be available to help people meet their basic living expenses. Where no other financial resources are available, emergency financial assistance may be provided during a crisis. It is generally for health-related items, such as:
- Personal care items
- Diabetic, surgical, incontinence and ostomy supplies
- Mobility devices
- Housing-related arrears
Individuals are asked to not visit any Employment and Social Service centre location in person. All requests are to be completed over the phone. Staff will assess which programs residents are eligible for. Existing clients can also call or email their case workers. In addition, Ontario Works has a service available to clients called MyBenefits. It is an online tool that allows clients to report changes or get information about their Ontario Works case. Individuals who have applied for Employment Insurance but are waiting for their first payment can apply for Ontario Works Assistance.
Staff are currently awaiting direction with any process changes for individuals awaiting Employment Insurance. Long-Term Care continues to provide services to vulnerable seniors in our four City homes. We are collaborating with Ottawa Public Health, the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care and AdvantAge Ontario to ensure all recommended best practices are in place to promote and support everyone’s safety. The health and safety of staff and residents continues to be the number one priority in all decision making. Only family members of residents at end of life or in palliative care will be permitted to enter the homes. Extensive screening continues for everyone.
In addition, Adult Day Programs have been cancelled. Inventories of all personal protective equipment and infection control supplies have been completed and are being increased.
On March 16, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, recommended the temporary closure of all licensed child care centres, licensed home childcare and Early ON Child and Family Centres in the province. On March 17, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered the immediate closure of licensed child care. As a result, all municipal child care centres are temporarily closed, effective March 18. All parents were notified. This order does not apply to home child care providers overseen by licensed agencies or unlicensed home child care providers. Children's Services has reached out to the Ministry of Education for clarity on whether there will be any exceptions to provide child care services for essential staff, supported by Ottawa Public Health.
Housing Services helps people who experience homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless, through emergency shelters, support services and outreach. Extensive planning and support has been undertaken, including:
• All housing allowance and rent supplement benefits will be released to households one week ahead of normal to assist with household cash flow.
• Social housing providers have been directed that no evictions can occur during the COVID-19 period.
• While the Social Housing Registry is closed to the public, it continues to take phone calls from residents. Protocols are established to ensure Special Provincial Priority household applications for people fleeing domestic violence continue to be received and processed.
• All housing providers, emergency shelters, including off-site services (hotel and motels) and homelessness programs have been asked to submit business continuity plans to Housing Services.
• Housing providers have also been asked to establish phone check-in processes to support their vulnerable tenants, where possible.
• Residents at the City’s family shelter have been provided with Ottawa Public Health information related to COVID-19 and messaging around other precautionary measures. Visitation at the shelter is limited, except for specialized services like the Children’s Aid Society.
• City staff have reached out to hotels and motels that provide temporary emergency accommodation to provide Ottawa Public Health resources for hotel management, staff and clients. Staff are providing ongoing communications to clients at the hotels.
• Staff have connected with all shelter providers to discuss operations and business continuity plans. Providers have also been asked to identify any needs they may have and to track any extraordinary expenses related to COVID-19.
• Ottawa Inner City Health is taking an active role in the shelter system and has a mobile assessment van in operation to visit the shelters on rotation, in addition to having a nurse on call for evenings and weekends.
• The needs identified in the emergency and family shelter system for ongoing operations and potential isolation sites have been communicated to the federal government.
• A temporary isolation centre for individuals who must self-isolate for Covid-19 is required to mitigate the spread of the virus within the shelter environment. Housing Services is working with Ottawa Inner City Health, Ottawa Public Health and Recreation, Cultural and Facility Services to set up an isolation space for the singles shelter system for Monday, March 23 at Routhier Community Centre for those who do not require hospitalization. The City will be consulting with OPH to implement best practices for cleaning and maintaining the centre both as its use as an isolation centre and before it is returned to the City for community use.
• Options through the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, universities and colleges are being explored for families who may require self-isolation due to exposure, symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19.
• Housing Services continues to issue funding to homelessness programs. Some agencies are physically closed, but staff are available by phone for clients. Those that remain open have staggered and reduced staffing, as well as social distancing and strict hygiene procedures in place.
• Staff are supporting and responding to questions and concerns from homelessness service agencies, including the increased potential for partner violence, supply shortages at food banks and a shortage of resources to support clients. This information is relayed to the Human Needs Task Force for resolution.
• Residential services providers have limited visitation at their homes and staff have been providing them frequent communications and updates from Ottawa Public Health. We recognize the generosity of those looking to volunteer. Currently, we are not seeking volunteers to help with the response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. However, this is a priority area for the City and we are looking at ways to provide opportunities for those who want to support their community.
As Ottawa Public Health has suggested, residents can help by checking in with neighbours and friends who may be vulnerable, overwhelmed, lonely or in need of help. 2-1-1 is available for information on the full range of community, social, government and health services and programs available in Ottawa and how to access those services.
In closing, your Community and Social Services point of contact for any inquiries related to COVID-19 is [email protected] email. Amanda Kaczmarek is a member of the Emergency Operations Centre Councillor Liaison Team and will serve as the primary contact for assisting and supporting Councillors with Community and Social Services constituency inquiries relating to COVID-19.
We will be working closely with our service areas to ensure COVID-19 constituent inquiries are appropriately triaged and responded to in a timely fashion with consistent messaging.