Helping people in a situation of vulnerability

Our current health crisis is deepening inequalities. It has taken a severe toll on people experiencing poverty and social exclusion while instantly putting a whole group of workers already struggling to stay afloat in an even more vulnerable situation.

Some live in substandard housing that is not conducive to having children home all day. For others, the side effects of the pandemic include violence, exacerbated mental health problems, or increased vulnerability because of a disability or because they have just arrived in the country.

With the support of our Emergency Fund, community agencies in Greater Montreal have quickly reorganized to maintain or even intensify contact with their clients as well as with everyone made newly vulnerable by the crisis.

They are doing everything they can so that no one is forgotten.

These families struggle more than others because they have no financial safety cushion. They can barely make ends meet with their income and have almost no savings. They tend to live in small spaces, which start to feel very cramped during stay-at-home orders. With children off school, their mental load increases as does the stress from the uncertainty of this situation.

On the South Shore, L'Envol Programme d'aide aux jeunes mères stays connected with young mothers to provide emotional support during this time of isolation and to prevent child neglect and abuse. Services include day and evening phone follow-ups, information posted on social networks, food aid deliveries, and access to prepaid shopping cards for products not available at the food bank.

Seniors are now living in a paradox, as both contact and a lack of contact with others poses risks to their health. Along with worries about a disease that affects them in particular, the crisis has increased the solitude of many seniors who already find themselves isolated, alone, and even neglected. We fear for their physical and mental health, as their lives are disrupted and they may be losing people they know. They feel worried and anxious as they face multiple issues from food safety to challenges using technology.

In Chomedey, Laval's poorest and most multicultural neighbourhood, the Centre SCAMA (Centre de Services Communautaires et d’Aide au Maintien de l’Autonomie) has started delivering groceries to people’s homes and has intensified its emergency food service (meals-on-wheels and frozen meals). Every day, 30 volunteers check in with 300 confined seniors with friendly phone calls, a service offered in multiple languages.

For people with disabilities, the challenges of physical distancing raise a host of concerns. How can you shop for groceries online when you are visually impaired? Will there be a shortage in home care services if the health care system is overloaded? Life has also been upended for people with an intellectual disability, who often divide their time between their families, foster homes, and day centres at community agencies. Changing their routines can have a serious impact on their well-being and that of their families.

Volunteers at the Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Montréal métropolitain (RAAMM) have taken action with a new approach. Instead of accompanying the blind and visually impaired on their errands, they go shopping for them and deliver groceries and food for guide dogs directly to their homes. Agency staff also accompany people to emergency medical appointments not related to COVID-19.

People with anxiety disorders and depression are at risk of increased symptoms. Confinement and social distancing measures pose an additional challenge for them, as they generally have more trouble staying connected to others. It is harder for them to maintain balance so as not to sink further into isolation and lose their desire to talk to others, get around, communicate or even eat.

ALPABEM (Association lavaloise de parents et amis pour le bien-être mental) had to urgently adopt technology to continue their one-on-one meetings and support groups by videoconference instead of in person. The also run a live 20-minute session every day on different topics for their Facebook community, and people can ask questions and interact with the counsellors.

For women who are victims of domestic violence, a confinement period can make their homes an extremely dangerous place. They may be more reluctant to leave their situations due to stay-at-home orders. The increase in risk factors from this situation—such as poverty, isolation, parental stress, lack of support, and more—can also increase the incidence of child abuse and violence

On the front lines, Le Chaînon has scaled up its resources to ensure that residents are protected and get the required psychosocial assistance. Needs from the confinement are increasing, as women who usually spend the night at a shelter have to spend all day there too. To reinforce services, the agency has added counsellors and housekeeping staff at three shelters.

People who have come to Quebec to start a new life have seen that life come to a halt. Documents or applications can only be filled out online, but newcomers often don’t have access to a computer. Finding a place to live is becoming a major challenge, and finding a job is almost impossible. With schools closed and kids at home, everything is on hold. Imagine if, on top of everything, you don’t speak the language... And we can’t forget all those who had just started their immigration journeys and now find themselves out of work. Will it take longer for them to return to the job market? Situations of discrimination and racism also seem to be on the rise during the crisis.

In different Montreal neighbourhoods, the Centre social d'aide aux immigrants (CSAI) ensures that its most vulnerable clients do not lack for anything. Once a week, groceries and hygiene products are delivered directly to their homes. The majority of people served are government-assisted refugees and recently arrived asylum-seekers. They have limited financial resources and often do not have credit cards to make online purchases.

In mid-March, when most of us began self-isolating at home for who knows how long, others had to scramble for shelter. The pandemic has made the homeless and people in precarious housing situations particularly vulnerable.

See how, in just a few weeks, homelessness resources have mobilized to confront the crisis >

With the closure of many services due to social distancing measures, community agencies have had to deploy new strategies to maintain and even increase contact with their clients.

Thanks to Centraide’s collaboration with SynergiTIC, many agencies are getting help to take their services digital. They can now access a crisis support kit that helps [AMB2] them set up a series of IT measures in relation to mobility, communication, collaboration, and document management so that they can continue their activities.


Five counsellors from Je Passe Partout and two librarians from the City of Montreal have been dispatched to the front lines to answer 211 calls. This service is now getting four times the number of requests, over 50% of which relate to food aid.

An essential public service, and no more so than right now, 211 is also a valuable source of information about the needs of the population.

Do you want to know which needs are greatest? These statistics are now available to the public from the 211 website.