The Challenges of COVID-19: A year of Hunger, Hope, and Resilience at Dixon Hall

The Challenges of COVID-19: A year of Hunger, Hope, and Resilience at Dixon Hall

As we mark one year of our current global pandemic, it is important to reflect on how much and how deeply our community has been affected. Here at Dixon Hall, we are taking a moment to look back at the experiences and challenges that tested us, but that also made us stronger as an organization, and as a community.

As a neighbourhood organization that provides essential services to those in need, Dixon Hall had to react, adapt, and step up to meet the demands presented by the pandemic. We had to think more creatively and critically than ever before. As a result, we expanded and recommitted: our services and programs were moved online where possible; our food services and community meals were increased exponentially; our housing sites increased from 4 to 7, and, for seniors, we increased our focus on mental health and wellness programs by 50%.

Food insecurity presented itself as a prominent concern from the start of the pandemic. Thanks to our generous supporters, we expanded our food services to almost every one of our departments. Donations from the Slaight Family Foundation allowed us to provide food baskets to our music students and their families; the Scheinberg Relief Fund and United Way enabled our Children & Youth department to get food to families in need, and we established a new “Dixon Hall Meal Kit” program, providing housing clients from outside the downtown core an opportunity to access nutritious food. Individual donations allowed us to support and offer more food options for youth programs and community meals; small local businesses worked together to organize and provide community food options, and raised additional funds for other essential services at Dixon Hall.

The creation of housing and shelter options that ensured safe social distancing and stability was a critical piece of our work. Our four existing shelter sites could not accommodate physical distancing. In partnership with the City of Toronto, we took on the operation of three new hotel shelters where individuals experiencing homelessness could stay safe in private rooms. We went from operating four to seven sites and from caring for 290 clients to 560 clients in a matter of months.

With this new model came innovative programming to better support our clients and the neighbours surrounding the hotels. New resources incorporated at certain sites include a supervised consumption space, additional Harm Reduction Workers, Health Navigators, and increased Client Intervention and Housing staff. Creation of a Community Liaison Committee, along with 24/7 Community Safety Support and partnered outreach with Downtown Yonge BIA were instilled to better support the surrounding community with increased transparency and collaboration.

Seniors, one of the most at-risk demographics, were also the ones experiencing some of the greatest restraints – isolation, loneliness, helplessness. In response, our seniors’ team shifted to help our clients in safe but effective ways. Generous donations led to the creation of virtual programming and home-delivered activity kits. Our Meals on Wheels program increased by 30% – both in new client referrals and deliveries – helping those experiencing food insecurity stay safe during the height of the pandemic. More than 73,000 meals were delivered by a skeleton crew of staff and volunteers over the course of the year, as many regular volunteers were unable to support the program.

Of course, the challenges of the pandemic weighed heavily on our youngest community members. Dixon Hall Music School wasted no time in moving online, providing classes to more than 220 students, and enabling top RCM scores. And our Children & Youth team provided unwavering supports (online, over the phone, distanced) as families struggled to stay afloat and stay well during the pandemic. Our Employment Services team also provided their full suite of programs and supports online to job-seekers throughout the pandemic.

As we look back and reflect on the past year, we do recognize the hardships, and acknowledge the challenges that we faced, but we also recognize the outstanding resilience and spirit of caring that make up the Dixon Hall community: the partnerships, the individuals who inspire us to stand up to adversity even in a time of crisis; and the supporters that made our emergency responses and updated programming and services possible. We thank you, and we ask you to continue to stand by us. There is still a great deal of work to be done.

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