In this project, our team sought to understand the high influx of new people accessing basic need supports at a Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, NRCs have served as an essential service to gather and distribute basic need supplies, including food and personal items. Crouch NRC, which serves the Hamilton Road community of London, Ontario supports community members with basic needs while advocating for safe and affordable housing and access to social services. Crouch NRC is notably concerned about this new wave of community members accessing basic needs support even from the early days of the pandemic. Some of the research questions relate to who these families are? Why have they not needed support in the past yet need it now? Do these represent new financial crises or past barriers to accessing support? And how can NRCs ensure that the right people can access the right supports at all times?
The Partnership & Funding
The project is a partnership between the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion (CHRESI) at Western University and Crouch NRC. Funding was provided through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grant – COVID-19 Priority.
The Process & Findings
We sought to understand the experience of the pandemic from low-income families accessing services at Crouch NRC and learn what was contributing to their increase in need. Those accessing Crouch services completed mixed qualitative and quantitative surveys to describe their experiences during the pandemic. After the first round of survey data collection, an additional 14 individuals participated in, in-depth interviews to further refine the initial findings.
Our findings revealed that: 1) These individuals weren’t necessarily new to social services but were new to Crouch NRC as other services closed; 2) Many participants were doing generally okay during the pandemic because of emergency income supports (e.g. Canada Emergency Response Benefit [CERB]) and because Crouch NRC filled the gap for other services and; 3) The broad closure of services combined the negative impacts related to both belonging (social inclusion) and access to basic needs.
What we have learned is that income supports and basic needs assistance serve an important role and in many ways have been an effective response during COVID-19. However, in the short term, more work needs to be done for future emergencies/crises to ensure there is not such a drastic closure of basic needs supports pushing all people to the few remaining or new options. Secondly, in the longer term, more needs to be done to ensure financial stability for low-income families and lessen the necessity of accessing emergency food and other episodic supports.