Coronavirus: Toronto’s Indigenous Community Sending Out SOS

There’s no doubt that virtually everyone in Toronto is suffering in one form or another from the COVID-19 outbreak. But one group in particularly dire straits is Toronto’s Indigenous community.

“90 percent of the 70,000 Indigenous people in Toronto live at or below the poverty line,” says Julie Cookson, Executive Director of Anishnawbe Health Foundation in Toronto.

“High rates of poverty and homelessness are barriers to health in the best of times for this community.  A lack of access to nutritious food, compromised immune systems, and chronic health conditions put them at greater risk,” says Clarkson.

When you add to the mix the social distancing rules and social isolation already experienced by the Indigenous community, it can take a toll on mental health, according to Clarkson.

Isolation itself is an issue, she stresses. “The community faces high rates of mental health issues including anxiety and depression, so to be cut off is a challenge.”

For most people living in Toronto, cell phones, email and Zoom make it easy to connect with friends and relatives, but for members of the Indigenous community access to the internet is hard to come by.

“A lot of them had free access to WiFi through public libraries, coffee shops, community centres and other places, so being without those can have a great impact on mental health.”

On top of mental health issues,  Clarkson points out that many Indigenous people suffer higher rates of respiratory illnesses, anxiety, and high blood pressure. “In the past, pandemics have hit the Indigenous community proportionately higher,” she adds.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission states that “the current state of Indigenous health in urban centres across Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian governmental policies, including residential schools.”

Clarkson says, “Their health needs should be served from a place that makes them feel safe and secure, and where they have access to cultural identity and care that lifts mind, body, spirit, and emotion.”

That’s what Anishnawbe Health Toronto aims to do.  “It’s a place where Toronto’s Indigenous residents can receive the best of traditional and Western medicine to help and support them in reaching their goals – having a secure place to live, accessing ceremony, good food, and traditional services, as well as access for help with chronic diseases and mental health,” says Clarkson.

Last week an anonymous family foundation set up the “COVID–19 Pandemic Urgent Response Fund” at Anishnawbe Health. The foundation will match all donations to the fund up to $25,000.

If you wish to donate you can visit Anishnawbe Health Foundation.

You can also donate by mailing a cheque to Anishnawbe Health Foundation, 225 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON M5A 1S4.

To donate by phone call 416-999-6791.




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