The residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable and have recently fallen victim to a dual pandemic of substance use and SARS-CoV-2.
Many of these individuals depend on resources provided by the government in order to survive, however, these programs have also been affected by SARS-CoV-2. The capacity of shelters and safe injection sites have been reduced in order to maintain physical distancing, causing the number of unsheltered and overdosed individuals to increase. Further, limited access to personal protective equipment and sanitation products puts them at higher risk of getting sick.
People across the world are adjusting to a new normal
and being affected by the unintended consequences of it,
but those experiencing substance use are being hit the hardest
and are in need of innovative mitigation strategies.
One program that is doing an excellent job of adapting their services is the Sheway Pregnancy Outreach Program located on East Hastings in Vancouver. Sheway supports pregnant women and new mothers experiencing housing instability and substance use by providing them medical care, childcare education, nutrition, resource connections, and other supports throughout pregnancy and within the first 18 months post-partum. Sheway is an inspiring example of how outreach workers are finding creative ways to continue serving their clients in these difficult times. Dana Clifford, the Clinical Coordinator at Sheway, shared in a telephone interview how the Sheway team has fostered new ways to create a support network for their clients, increased their capacity to reach new mothers in a safe manner, and combatted the unintended consequences of provincial health recommendations.
The Sheway program partners with Vancouver Coastal Health,
Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society, and several other organizations,
in order to provide a multidisciplinary approach to caring for women
in a culturally appropriate, safe, and supportive way.
Previously, Sheway organized groups for women to learn skills for parenthood, participate in activities with their children, access cultural ceremonies, and connect with others that could share their success stories and experiences. With new physical distancing measures, it has become much more difficult to create a supportive group environment that fosters confidence in motherhood.
During the summer months, physically distanced groups were able to occur safely outdoors, but as the weather worsened, initiatives to meet mothers individually in their communities quickly expanded. Counsellors and infant development consultants have been able to safely meet mothers and infants individually at locations convenient for clients. Mothers dealing with anxiety about SARS-CoV-2 and who feel uncomfortable leaving their home have been provided with in-person information on safe interaction and personal protection from the virus. New funding for supplies has helped mothers bond with their children through outdoor scavenger hunts, gardening, or other safe activities. These are just a few examples of the creativity and kindness that has made Sheway clients feel supported in their social network while still staying safe during the pandemic.
The medical clinic at Sheway has remained open throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, as they provide essential care to the members of our society that need it most. Doctors, nurses, a dietician, and counsellors, are on the long list of professionals that are keeping pregnant women and new mothers healthy in this time of increased risk. The services provided to Sheway clients include prenatal and postnatal care to mothers, immunizations and check-ups to children and parents, counselling for concurrent disorders and trauma, STI and HIV testing, and contraception counselling. In light of increased safety precautions, the Sheway team has expanded their virtual appointment access, phone access, community outreach capacity, and has created a safe in-office experience for their clients that do not have access to a secure computer or telephone. These efforts ensure that anyone in need of help, is still able to access their services without being put on a waitlist.
The Sheway team made several changes to how their nutrition programs were run, and how their resources were provided in order to comply with provincial health regulations. One such change included removing the communal supply of condoms in order to prevent the spread of disease through high-touch surfaces. As a result, the Sheway clinic documented a stark increase in the number of STIs and unintended pregnancies in their clients. After realizing that this may be due to the reduced access to free contraception, Sheway workers added condoms to all individual lunch packages. This mitigation strategy serves as a reminder of how the safety measures implemented across our country are resulting in unintended consequences that will require intervention by some creative and caring individuals like those working at Sheway.
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has taken a toll on every citizen in Vancouver, however, those experiencing housing instability, food insecurity, and substance use are being hit the hardest. Services to these people during such a difficult time can only be provided with adaptation and commitment to providing them with the care they need. Programs such as Sheway are an example of how kindness can be spread in innovative ways that comply with provincial health guidelines.
If you are interested in being a part of this kindness, or would like to show your support, please follow the links listed below:
SHEWAY PREGNANCY OUTREACH PROGRAM
In light of COVID-19, new volunteer applications are currently on hold. They would love to hear from you when restrictions are more relaxed!
More Information: www.vch.ca
Monetary Donations: www.vghfoundation.ca/give/sheway-website
Item Donations: Call (604) 216-1699 to arrange a dop-off time
Special thank you to Dana Clifford for sharing this inspiring story.
Conway, B., D Truong, K Wuerth. 2020. COVID-19 in homeless populations: unique challenges and opportunities. Future Virology. DOI: 10.2217/fvl-2020-0156
Vancouver Coastal Health. 2020. Sheway Pregnancy Outreach Program. Accessed December 2020. http://www.vch.ca/Locations-Services/result?res_id=900.
Clifford, Dana. Personal Interview. 11 December 2020.