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Staff at Halifax’s Phoenix Youth Programs concerned for youth during coronavirus pandemic

Global News

Once a week, Global News will feature our local community partners to highlight how they are handling day-to-day operations during the coronavirus pandemic and how you can help.

The staff at Halifax’s Phoenix Youth Programs are worried.

Not only about the anticipation of a 30 per cent decrease in funding due to the coronavirus pandemic or the struggle to provide essential services in an unprecedented time, but they’re worried about the mental and physical well-being of the youth they serve.

Phoenix Youth Programs has been providing shelter and a brighter future for youths in the Maritimes for over 33 years, supporting young people between the ages of 11 and 24 through community-based services across the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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With young people’s routines disrupted, as they have been for everyone, their mental and physical well-being can suffer.

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“We are very concerned about youth who typically come to our walk-in centres for social interaction and support and are currently unable to do so,” said Darren Howie, manager of the Phoenix Centre for Youth.

Walk-in centres like the Phoenix Centre for Youth are imperative on a good day, Howie said. They provide a confidential, non-judgmental service — a safety zone.

Some services the walk-in centre offers include housing support, crisis intervention, counselling and health services.

It also provides things most take for granted on a good day, like food, clothing, a warm shower, laundry facilities and computer and phone access.

Amid a state of emergency caused by a highly infectious disease outbreak, that safety zone is on edge.

Eastcoast Lifestyle and Phoenix Youth Programs team up again for clothing line
Eastcoast Lifestyle and Phoenix Youth Programs team up again for clothing line

However, like many organizations serving a vulnerable community during these uncertain times, Phoenix won’t stop working.

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Phoenix staff are providing an essential service; they have to keep coming to work so the youth they serve have a place to call home.

They’ve had to make adjustments to their day-to-day operations, like moving furniture in common spaces to promote social distancing, reducing the number of youths in dining areas and sanitizing in between each group of diners.

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Kelly Adamson, manager of Phoenix’s supportive housing program, recognizes that although there have been changes to routine, young people are focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Youth are understandably anxious about COVID-19,” she said. “But it would be hard to be more impressed with how they are dealing with the day-to-day in the middle of this pandemic.”

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It’s not only the mental health of their youth that Phoenix cares about.

It’s troubling for the staff to all of a sudden have less contact with the young people they care so deeply about while also managing the pandemic on a personal level.

The steps of a Phoenix Youth Programs residence.
The steps of a Phoenix Youth Programs residence. Kinnon Job/Phoenix Youth Programs

Clinical therapists are available to youths and Phoenix staff to provide guidance and support remotely.

The staff meet and check in with each other frequently, regularly expressing the mantra we’ve all become familiar with these past two months: “We’re all in this together.”

Fundraising that would have typically been held over the spring has been postponed or cancelled, and Phoenix Youth Programs predicts it will see a 30 per cent decrease in funding.

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Dalhousie teams up with Phoenix Youth to make dental hygiene more accessible
Dalhousie teams up with Phoenix Youth to make dental hygiene more accessible

However, some of the organization’s supporters have come up with creative ways to keep their promise of raising money: a family that usually holds an annual Saint Patrick’s Day fundraiser partnered up with local musicians to host an online concert.

Others have used their birthdays to raise money on social media, and businesses have been donating a portion of their sales to Phoenix.

“It gives me a morale boost when people are still providing support,” says Howie.

Many youths and families who rely on Phoenix for support were already struggling economically before the COVID-19 pandemic, living paycheque to paycheque.

They may have lost jobs and income as a result of the pandemic and are feeling tensions that go beyond financial struggles.

Phoenix offers therapeutic counselling by phone, food and supply drop-offs to families who need it and 24-7 support in its five residential locations.

To increase connection and support the mental health of young people, Phoenix is exploring options to provide more non-contact programs to keep them engaged and focused through virtual volunteers.

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Options for some of their youth are limited, and that’s where volunteers can step in and step up for Phoenix.

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In the midst of all the uncertainty and confusion that everyone is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff at Phoenix are thankful for the help they receive from the community, the government, Feed Nova Scotia, social services and health-care workers.

Windsor business man bringing joy to retirement community on Easter Sunday
Windsor business man bringing joy to retirement community on Easter Sunday

Above all, they are appreciative of the maturity that the youths they care for are exhibiting in these challenging times, reaching out to each other to offer support, sharing compassion and exhibiting kindness — things everyone could practice, even on a good day.

Donating online is a safe way to help Phoenix youth and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Items like grocery and drugstore gift cards, diapers, hand sanitizer and toilet paper are also appreciated and accepted through an arranged, non-contact drop-off by emailing pcfy@phoenixyouth.ca or calling 1-866-620-0676 toll-free.

For more information on Phoenix Youth Programs and how you can help, visit www.phoenixyouth.ca.