By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
How has your experience been during this time of social distancing? Are you vulnerable due to age or pre-existing conditions and have been blessed to be able to shelter safely at home while others bring you everything you need? Have you been able to embrace the slower pace of life to engage in meaningful hobbies – perhaps even make masks or volunteer to support others? Are you able to work from home, albeit in a different way that introduces new challenges and stresses but keeps you away from the risks of being out in public? Are your children safely sheltered at home – if so, how are they adjusting to the new learning routine? Or have you found yourself on the ‘frontlines’ of this pandemic – serving the community in significant ways while placing yourself at risk?
A lot has changed since the country went on lockdown back in March. How individuals experience these changes depends significantly on our circumstances. For example, some say one of the most anxiety producing activities right now is going shopping. As a result, people are being more conscientious about how often they go to the store, planning trips more efficiently, making due when necessary and wearing masks to protect themselves. Such opportunities to reduce risk by changing our behaviours are privileges. The same opportunities to minimize risk are not as readily available to those who work on the front lines.
While many are anxious about shopping in a store right now, imagine those who work in one! Generally speaking those who work in grocery stores make minimum wage which is far below a living wage – that is the pay required for the basic necessities. This often results in having multiple jobs, or making difficult decisions about how to reduce expenses in order to make ends meet. These individuals can’t easily afford to lose their jobs and so they continue to show up to work despite the risks to themselves and their families. No doubt the increase in pay for some workers has helped to make this time easier – but what will happen when it is decided the crisis has sufficiently passed, and these individuals are expected to go back to a wage that is insufficient to meet their needs?
Similar arguments are now being made for those who work in senior’s facilities. As the number of cases of COVID-19 explodes in these homes, people are becoming more aware of the inadequacies of funding, staffing and supports. Once again, temporary relief is being offered to these individuals as a way of acknowledging the risk they face doing their jobs each day – but what happens when it is decided this crisis is over?
Much has been said about the heroism of medical personnel who care for those with COVID-19 and others who find themselves in need during this time. Their care, concern and wisdom are deeply appreciated. As time goes on and we are exposed to more stories, we continue to discover that there are heroes beyond the nurses and doctors we see on the front lines. Hospitals and health care facilities have a significant number of staff with vital roles that can place them at risk. Questions are being asked about how to support these as well. Will these questions remain relevant when we go back to ‘normal’?
This time has helped to shine a light on some of the vulnerabilities in our world. As the government tries to step up and offer support to those who find themselves struggling right now, we are catching glimpses of the injustices that exist. Life isn’t fair. Our economy isn’t just. There are many who have been suffering because of this reality. That suffering won’t simply disappear with the end of the quarantine. The respect and dignity that provides the foundation on which support is offered to many individuals right now needs to be part of our new normal. It is, after all, a part of our Baptismal Covenant.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the Social and Ecological Justice Huron chair.