YSM Services During Covid-19

Others, COVID-19 , Poverty

Contributed by: Yonge Street Mission

The communities Yonge Street Mission (YSM) serves are deeply impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Our primary focus is to ensure community members feel supported and are receiving the resources that they need, while following public health recommendations to safeguard the well-being of staff and do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

YSM is focused on providing wrap-around care management to vulnerable communities in Toronto.  In response, YSM has been operating with an emergency plan that ensures our essential programs and services can continue to be carried out.  

“I would just like to thank everyone at Yonge Street Mission for your tireless efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. A lot of the people here don’t have any family that care and the Food Bank is vital to our survival at this very difficult time. So, I would just like to extend a heartfelt thank you.”

– Community Member


Evergreen Centre for Street-Involved Youth

The youth we serve continue to live with the challenges of trauma, homelessness, absence of safety, rejection and mental health concerns amid this global health and economic crisis.  Youth feel anxious and distressed, and need to know they are cared for, supported and not alone.  

We are maintaining access to our mental health counselling program and the team at Evergreen is available outside the building to connect with the youth and provide trauma informed crisis interventions. Youth are ‘meeting’ with counsellors and Psychiatrists via phone or video appointments. Emergency consultations are available for youth who drop in to the Health Centre for critical mental health crisis support. 

Nutritious take-away meals are being handed out daily, as well as snacks and bottled water. Since many  street-involved youth no longer feel safe in the shelter system, Evergreen’s staff are offering hygiene supplies, including masks and hand sanitizer, tents, sleeping bags, and warm clothing – all of which are distributed outside our building where physical distancing and safety precautions are priorities. Since the inception of the emergency COVID-19 response plan, over 3000 meals have been received by street-involved youth.

Evergreen staff are building connections through our ‘Elevation’ youth employment program, an employment pathway specifically geared to young offenders and youth that identify with mental health concerns. Since the introduction of the revised ‘Elevation’ program three weeks ago, 105 youth have participated, virtual job interviews have been facilitated and nine youth have accepted employment placement opportunities.

Evergreen continues to provide essential supplies to precariously housed young parents, including baby formula, nutritious food, diapers and clothing. Care managers are in regular contact with these families by offering parenting and mental health supports at this tremendously overwhelming time. Since the revised emergency plan began, over 100 parents have received care and supplies. 

Our health care team is available for phone or video consults and referrals. YSM’s nurse practitioner remains available on-site to address urgent medical issues along with essential services approved by Public Health Ontario – prenatal care, vaccines, lab tests. With COVID-19 screening protocols in place, youth can access much needed prescriptions for physical illnesses and mental health concerns. Psychiatrists are also available for phone or video consultations. 


Davis Centre (support families in need and adults experiencing chronic poverty)

YSM Food Bank clients are maintaining their regularly scheduled food bank appointments and receiving pre-packaged groceries distributed outside our building where physical distancing and safety precautions continue to be a high priority.  Emergency food packages are available daily for ALL in need which includes personal hygiene products.  Healthy, ready-to-eat take-out meals for adults living with poverty and homelessness are available for pick up every Tuesday and Thursday.

The Food Bank – the largest in downtown Toronto east – is facing an unprecedented challenge and we are working hard to keep up with an ever growing demand.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, YSM’s food bank supported 230 weekly visits, impacting 600 people. This past week we supported 612 visits, impacting 1513 individuals.  The number continues to rise each week.

Being part of a community is a core value in YSM’s wrap-around care model and we believe it is essential to a sustainable pathway out of poverty. Our care managers are working tirelessly and creatively to maintain connection with families and individuals experiencing poverty.  More than ever, vulnerable families and individuals need to feel cared for and supported.   Since our revised delivery, over 630 outreach touch points have been made by the care management team.  These touch points have provided trusted, barrier free support and referrals to our mental health program, Children’s Aid interventions, food provision supports, employment, facilitated emergency housing through partner agencies, and more.  

Part of those family supports include the continuation of our after school Computer Literacy Centre.  To preserve continuity for the children, the program has migrated to an online platform and instructors have created a revised curriculum.   We are currently offering four online instructional courses.  Lessons, quizzes, review and adjudication will  continue so students can succeed and graduate from the courses.   

As well, this unprecedented time is particularly unsettling and challenging for young people in the communities we serve.  They may have an unstable home environment and need additional connection. The youth program, OVOL (Our Voices, Out Loud) is being maintained to provide support for teens by telephone or text message check-ins, virtual group meetings and through the virtual continuation of OVOL’s leadership programs, including a girl’s anti-bullying campaign.  These efforts will build a sense of community during social isolation and provide an opportunity for at-risk youth to build trusting relationships and gain mentorship opportunities.

At YSM, we are prioritizing serving and supporting those who are in need of mental health support and crisis interventions.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the psychological concerns facing many people in our community, increasing the need for individuals and families to access our mental health and counselling services. Our community members are dealing with fear, anxiety, and trauma associated with pre-existing issues and complicated by isolation, lack of ability to meet basic needs, loss and grief, safety and health concerns, and financial distress. Struggling individuals are directed to a phone or video conferencing consultation for clinical counselling support and referrals to YSM’s other crisis intervention services, as needed. Our counsellors are also connecting with existing clients to check-in and respond to their ongoing and new stressors.