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Outreach in the time of COVID-19

The COVID 19 pandemic and its many challenges have affected us all. Doug Cooke, Outreach Manager at Boyle Street Community Services, and his team are facing their own challenges when trying to follow the recommended health guidelines and still deliver their services to individuals experiencing homelessness who are living rough throughout the city.  

In pre-COVID19 times, the Outreach Team at Boyle Street brings services directly to Edmontonians experiencing homelessness. This includes distributing supplies such as snacks, water bottles and information to those living rough. Team members also connect clients to housing resources and drive them to medical appointments, as well as other critical appointments for their well-being. The team checks in on clients, with whom they create close relationships with. 


A lot has changed for the Outreach Team at Boyle Street these past few months. They have begun handing out more protein-based non-perishable food sources so that clients do not need to leave their encampments as frequently. This includes canned tuna and spam, which is a favourite among their clients! Ani, Boyle Street’s food service coordinator, is also sending the Outreach Team out with bagged lunches for clients every morning. The bagged lunches are welcomed by their clients, who often only receive snack items like granola bars.  

The Outreach Team is doing its part when it comes to following the recommended social distancing guidelines outlined by health authorities. During their morning debrief meetings, the team will stand the recommended two meters apart. In pre-COVID times, team members would carpool to sites where they would check in on clients. Now, each team member takes their own separate vehicle, to keep the appropriate distance. 


“My team is feeling the effects of social distancing,” explains Doug. “We used to use the time that we would carpool together to check in on each other, to catch up on our lives and to see how we are all doing. During these times, it’s hard to do. Some team members are struggling more than others, and we are supporting each other in the best ways that we can.” 

Another hurdle that the Outreach team is facing is trying to help keep their clients as clean as possible.  Since the closure of all river valley washrooms, clients have nowhere to relieve themselves and properly wash their hands. The team has requested porta-potties and handwashing stations. Doug is hopeful that the City can accommodate the request.  

“This is a huge problem,” explains Doug. “We are trying to work with the city to get these washrooms reopened. It’s a challenge.” 

Thankfully, the University of Alberta Chemistry Department recently made a large donation of hand sanitizer, which the Outreach team is using to refill their own bottles of hand sanitizer with. When they come across clients, they can squirt a few drops of sanitizer in their hands. The team has recently been able to acquire some small, refillable bottles to hand out hand sanitizer as well. 

A donation of tents and sleeping bags has helped keep some clients safe. When individuals experiencing homelessness have their own tent and their own sleeping bag, there is less of a chance of spreading COVID 19. Doug says his clients are grateful for the donation and are putting them to good use. While a tent is no replacement for safe, permanent housing, it does provide a safer, more private option for those most vulnerable. If a client is feeling unwell or showing symptoms, the Outreach Team can facilitate safe transport for them to the isolation site at the Expo Centre. 

One thing that frustrates the Outreach Team is that they feel like they are in survival mode. In pre-COVID times, Outreach workers would work one on one with clients to get them the services they need to transition them out of homelessness and poverty; much of this has now been put on hold.  

“It’s more complicated to get our clients supports like ID and incomes,” explains Doug. “Many of our clients are not willing to go to the EXPO centre because they wish to remain secluded.  Without an ID and income, it’s harder to access employment or housing. It’s frustrating.” 

One silver lining during these times is that the Outreach team recently hired a nurse named Matt. Clients are happy to access medical services without having to leave their camps, which many clients are hesitant to do during these times.  

The team is working hard to support each other and their clients during these stressful and unconventional times. Everyone is playing their part in keeping clients safe and healthy. Thank you, Street Outreach Team!  

1 Comment

Unknown member
May 22, 2020

thank you for working so hard and sharing information on how to keep safe , I am happy for us . Is there any jobs available for myself I am going for my lisence tomorrow

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