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Electronic devices helping keep connection for Calgarians isolated by COVID-19

Those who don’t have access to electronic devices may struggle with loneliness due to isolation in COVID-19.

Providing them with it may alleviate some of the feelings. 

Julia St. Amand and other students at the University of Calgary started an electronics drive to help people feel less lonely. 

“We found that a lot of people are isolated with no access to devices.” 

The response has been large, with the initiative gaining over 200 applications for donations so far. St Amand reached out to care homes and shelters helping people self isolate, all of whom expressed a need for devices. 

“They came out with a resounding, ‘Yes, we have a need for this,’” said St. Amand.  

“It’s hard for people to be alone for 14 days without any means to contact someone, that’s why we started it.” 

Need for devices at the Alpha House

One of the places that the drive is donating to is the Alpha House. It is a non-profit organization helping people impacted by drugs and alcohol who are struggling with homelessness and mental health. 

One of the programs offers housing, five of them permanent supportive housing and one transitional housing. It allows clients to live more independently. The clients are not symptomatic, but as a precaution have been isolating in their rooms for months. 

“They are probably the most impacted in terms of isolation,” said Shaundra Bruvall, communications coordinator at the Alpha House, as compared to other clients.

“They’re used to being able to chat with each other. There’s communal areas in the residence that have been closed down so clients are not congregating there.” 

The Francis Manor, one of the buildings of the Alpha House Society’s housing programs. / CONTRIBUTED.

She said that clients are reaching out to staff more because they’re feeling some of that isolation and loneliness. The emotions come around when they are feeling this way and there’s an opportunity to connect with family. 

TELUS recently donated mobile phones for one of the housing programs to clients who didn’t previously have them. Providing them with that made quite an impact. 

“One client, he cried when he received his cell phone,” said Bruvall.

“He was so excited he was going to be able to stay in touch with his daughter that he hadn’t spoken to for quite a while.”

Along with connection to loved ones, it’s useful to provide them devices so they can stay preoccupied in isolation. 

“It’s a huge thing because they’re bored. So having that connection is great just to kind of pass the time,” said Bruvall

The importance of accessing information 

St. Amand mentions that there’s a huge need to keep people preoccupied and feeling connected with the outside world.

“It’s really hard, especially for people who have substance problems, to stay in their rooms for 14 days straight without something to do or someone to talk to,” she said. 

“Imagine feeling isolated and not having access to a device.”

Bruvall said it’s important that clients in their housing to get access to information, something that having devices provides. 

“Information is a tough thing to get across to clients when they aren’t connecting with our programs, which maybe some of them aren’t because of COVID right now,” she said. 

“Just the opportunity to be online and see the news and hear what people are saying, to feel connected that way.” 

Bruvall said clients are more aware of what’s going on, and more willing to keep connecting with staff. It makes a difference when people are connected. 

“I think it happens to everybody where you’re feeling disconnected. It’s a lot harder to get back into that connection mode, you sort of start to withdraw a bit,” she said. 

“We certainly see that with our clients, but when they are able to connect with family, friends, or just connect online, with what’s going on in their communities, we definitely see them step out of themselves a little bit more, engage more.” 

St. Amand’s initiative focuses on how those suffering from isolation and loneliness in this time due to the pandemic

“We wanted to find a way that we can improve their situation,” she said. 

“Our goal is to help people feel less lonely by giving them the ability to connect.” 

The electronic drive runs from May 16 to May 22. You can find more information here on how to donate.