Six Challenges for Summer 2020

Summer is just around the corner, and while the virus seems to have subsided, we know we haven't seen the last of it. While the warm sun and blue skies make it very tempting to go back to our usual habits and activities, we must stay cautious.

Although most agencies have opened their doors, or will do so soon, to do everything they can together to maintain some form of neighbourhood life, they will still have to manage to physically distance while providing services, which will still be impacted by these measures.

In this context, the challenges will be great to face the summer realities, many of which will even be exacerbated by the health crisis.

The go-ahead for Greater Montreal businesses and organizations to resume activities has been good news for agencies that want to reopen to the community. However, they can’t just pick up where they left off, and they have had to adapt their spaces and activities.

In Laval, the Centre Communautaire Val-Martin resumed its services on June 2 with the theme “Here we practise physical, not social, distancing!” The required hygiene measures, such as hand-washing sinks, disinfection stations, gloves, masks, and a two-metre distancing rule, have been put in place for staf

This summer, La P'tite maison de Saint-Pierre in Lachine will be running outdoor activities, as their indoor space can only hold a limited number of people at one time. They have already reopened their collective gardens, where volunteers work in groups of up to 4 people. The second-hand clothing store is available to one person at a time, and the drop-in day care has resumed service for children from 6 months to 5 years.

“In addition to the 100 meals we cook and hand out to people in the neighbourhood every Wednesday, we're keeping up the virtual activities we started during the quarantine, such as our coffee get-togethers. We’re available by phone from Monday to Thursday. We also contact our members to see if they need things like food assistance, information about housing, or help to make appointments. Each support worker has created a professional Facebook page. We’re always finding more ways to keep in touch with people and motivate them. We’re constantly posting things to do on our children’s activity pages. We’re adapting, and I have to admit that we're pretty proud of what we're accomplishing. We want to improve our neighbourhood’s quality of life as much as we can.”

— Lynn Morin, Support Worker, La P’tite maison de Saint-Pierre

Since the start of the pandemic, our agencies have been at the front lines to protect their communities. This outpouring of solidarity has certainly left its mark and has reinforced a sense of neighbourhood belonging for local residents, people already getting services from agencies, newcomers who have found themselves in a difficult situation for the first time, volunteers, and everyone else around them. Agencies have used every means at their disposal—such as hotlines, online discussion groups, virtual programming for teens, videoconference workshops, and more—to stay in touch with their clients.

In the Plateau neighbourhood of Le Petit-Laurier, local spirit is on the rise thanks to La Maison d'Aurore's brand new community garden. Prominently located on the grounds of the Saint-Stanislas Church, this garden set up during the health crisis is used for the intensive production of fresh food that will be distributed twice a month to vulnerable people starting in July.

In many neighbourhoods, people who live in HLMs and seniors' residences are invited to sit on their balconies for a group party. Local musicians and public performers have a great time getting them to sing and dance. This is also an opportunity for people to share the latest news about COVID-19 and community resources. In other neighbourhoods, activity leaders go around on trucks with loudspeakers to entertain people. (photo credit : CLIC Bordeaux-Cartierville)

Greater Montreal was already experiencing a major housing crisis long before COVID-19 hit. For tenants who have to move but have not yet found housing, the current situation complicates things even more. Many households are losing income as rents continue to soar. With the housing search period cut short by the lockdown, stakeholders are afraid that vulnerable people will face even more discrimination when it comes to finding a place to live. Moving will also likely be more expensive given the new health requirements in place.

Again this year, OEIL (Organisation d'éducation et d'information logement) will help set up a crisis cell in Côte-des-Neiges for July 1. Last year, this initiative supported many tenants who couldn’t find housing or who ended up living in a substandard apartment. All housing committees are on high alert to help households who can’t find a place to live.

The first heat wave of the summer has already hit Greater Montreal, and community agencies have had to face the double challenge of protecting marginalized and isolated people from both the heat and COVID-19. These individuals include the homeless, recent immigrants with language barriers, seniors living alone, people with mental health problems, or families living on a low income or in inadequate housing.

In the Peter-McGill neighbourhood, an area known for its heat island effects, the agency Groupe Harmonie does excellent community work with vulnerable seniors and is getting ready for this summer’s heat waves. In cooperation with other agencies in the neighbourhood, it is looking to reinforce the usual messages to help people protect themselves from extreme heat. In addition to reminders, people who are more at risk will also receive over-the-phone advice.

After several months with no school, friends or outdoor activities, children can't take it anymore and families locked down in small dwellings need a break. However, due to health requirements, day camp spaces in the Greater Montreal area are limited, and summer or family camps will be closed. Hundreds of children and families from underprivileged backgrounds won’t get to go on their annual out-of-town vacation.

However, financial aid from the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) of the Government of Canada (ECSF) will let agencies that run community day camps put health measures in place so that they can welcome children at their facilities.

Another reality is that the families of children with disabilities have been without services since mid-March. In addition to becoming exhausted, parents are concerned about regressive behaviour in their children after they have been deprived of stimulation and social contact. Day camps for people with disabilities are currently working to set up exceptional measures to meet their needs, such as home support/caregiving, added spaces or outdoor tents at the day camps, or activities in small groups of 2 or 3 people with attendants.

This long period of school inactivity for children and teens may have a negative impact on their future success, particularly for young people struggling both personally and academically. Since the start of online education, the gap has increased between better-off and disadvantaged young people who don’t have the same tools to continue their studies (work space, tools, support, and encouragement).

In the Greater Montreal area, 56 community agencies are currently receiving funding from the Youth Project to help isolated and marginalized children and teens. Various initiatives will give them the educational and psychosocial support they need so that they can confidently return to school in 2020-2021.