As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.
We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.
This week’s post highlights the dedicated work of another organization in Point Douglas, the North End Women’s Centre (NEWC).
For more than 35 years, the NEWC has facilitated opportunities to women-identified people, in healing, wellness and capacity building, through diverse community-centred approaches. This mission has become more crucial during the pandemic; in the midst of national and provincial public health advisories, the community has looked to their trusted community-based centres looking for information, resources, and support.
“They know us for being a place where they come when they need support, or help, or some safe place to gather,” explains Cynthia Drebot, executive director of the North End Women’s Centre.
When the pandemic hit, the centre had to make quick decisions on how to continue providing services and programming. During the first couple of weeks, NEWC adjusted their services while implementing hygiene and sanitizing practices. When social distancing guidelines ramped up, however, they had to reassess their physical space, adapt staffing schedules, and move to a crisis and basic-needs response, in order to remain accessible during regular day time hours.
The centre had to develop guidelines and protocols for staff, the women residing in the centre’s housing, and visitors from the community. Staff were rescheduled to rotating shifts, alternating between working from the office and working from home. As well, they were trained around protocols of physical distancing, and began using digital platforms to facilitate remote administrative work. Drebot explained that collaboration among agencies made the development of COVID-19 response guidelines much easier – guidelines which are becoming more long-lasting than expected.
While the centre was getting prepared, they noticed that many members of the community were not aware of the situation. Lack of access to technology also limited peoples’ access to basic information about the pandemic.
“We had people coming to the door saying, ‘why is everything closing? Why can’t we go anywhere?’” said Drebot. “So, there was a lot of opportunity to talk to the community about what COVID-19 [is] and to help them to come up with their own safety plans depending on their living environment.”
As time in quarantine has continued, the demand for food, supplies, and support has increased. An average of 100 people per day are helped at the NEWC, and any women or women-identified person that comes to the centre has access to lunch, food supplies, basic needs, hygiene items, diapers, formula, kids’ entertainment kits, and more. And even with The Up Shoppe—the Centre’s social enterprise second-hand retail store— temporarily closed, the community is able to access referrals, clothing, household items, harm-reduction supplies, and anything else that is available (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, clothing, etc.).
NEWC also adapted their counselling and healing-related services to meet social distancing guidelines. Some counselling sessions were moved to over-the-phone or online appointments, with additional strategies implemented in cases of domestic violence situations, such as development of safety plans, safety words, etc.
Some of the Centre’s programs—such as Women Transforming—have taken advantage of the reach of social media, using tools such as videos to connect with women by delivering teachings online.
As well, Drebot appreciates the weekly check-ins, innumerable zoom meetings, phone calls, texts, and so much back and forth between different groups. She recognizes the key role that social media—especially their Facebook page—has played in allowing them to stay connected with the community.
Drebot notes that this shift in services has led to some women missing the sense of belonging and connection that comes from groups. With the reopening plan for Manitoba recently launched by the province, NEWC plans to assess future phases and move towards reopening some programming with smaller groups on site, while following physical distancing measures. Some Elders are also providing guidance on how to do ceremony in a safe and respectful way.
In the end, the goal is the same for NEWC: provide women and women-identified people with resources around basic needs and support them in their healing journey.
“The reality that women and women-identified people had before COVID-19: living in domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, being exploited, or other challenges, has not gone away during [the pandemic]. If their basic needs were not being met, they are feeling that strain more than anybody else.”
Overall, Drebot emphasizes the centre’s rapid response to the pandemic has been possible due to the impressive collaboration and resilience from the community, NEWC staff, and other local and regional organizations.
“Our staff have the ability to adapt, respond, find out the community’s needs, and make it happen. People continue to do what they do and adapt.” States Drebot. “The community is strong and resilient; [they] are figuring this out with or without support [and] keeping the community connection strong.”
Please note: a few days prior to posting this blog, on May 11, a fire was lit next to the North End Women Centre’s social enterprise, the Up Shoppe, and spread to their building. Thankfully no one was injured, but their building and the store’s interior and inventory suffered considerable damage, and has led to the shop being forced to delay their reopening to the public.
If you would like to support NEWC financially during this tough time, please visit this link to make a donation: https://www.canadahelps.org/…/char…/north-end-womens-centre/