Richmond-based Chimo sees rise in calls to crisis line, rent bank due to COVID-19 pandemic

There has been a 25 per cent increase in calls to Chimo’s rent bank and crisis line, according to the organization’s executive director, as Richmond residents grapple with the effects of COVID-19.

Many of the people calling the crisis line have been experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the global pandemic, said Tabitha Geraghty.

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“If you’re being quarantines or are self-isolating, anxiety levels and depression can set in deeper…based on the fact that (people) can’t go out and they don’t have the resources and connections that they normally have,” she said.

The organization is also adapting to COVID-19.

Currently, only a staff member is available to answer the crisis line – which is normally answered entirely by volunteers. But those volunteers are no longer on-site for safety reasons during the pandemic.

If a staff member isn’t available, the call is forwarded to other crisis lines.

But in order to ensure that there’s always someone on the other end of the line for those who reach out, Chimo is working on moving to an online platform so volunteers can remotely answer calls from home. The organization is also increasing the capacity of its crisis line due to the increased call volume.

That new remote system should be in place by Monday, said Geraghty.

The organization will also be implementing a text and chat feature to the crisis line, to help reach people who are isolated and may be in vulnerable situations.

“A lot of people now being quarantined or housebound have no privacy (needed to make a call). But at least if we can implement the chat and text function, they can still have somebody on the other end of the line that can talk them through this,” said Geraghty.

More calls to rent bank

More people have also been calling or applying to Chimo’s rent bank, said Geraghty.

The rent bank, which is based on need, is a loan available to anyone who is a resident of Richmond, as long as they’re over age 19.

“It’s based on need, for rent specifically,” she said. “Generally we try to cover a person’s rent if they cannot pay their rent. (But) if they have half their rent, then they could get a loan for the other half, so (the amount loaned) varies.”

Most of the rent bank’s funding, said Geraghty, comes through the B.C. rent bank, while some comes from donations.

While Chimo’s office is closed to all in-person services, Geraghty said staff remain on site to help the community.

“Our staff are here answering the phones and really just waiting for the calls to come in,” she said. “We want to be able to be there to help the community right now, (and) we want them to know we’re available.”

Geraghty said that they’ve also had more people asking for information about COVID-19, such as the resources available – such as the provincial and federal emergency financial aid packages – to them and how to navigate those.

While the calls are coming from all age groups, Geraghty said she is seeing a lot of middle-aged people and working families reach out to Chimo, after facing layoffs or finding themselves unable to work due to COVID-19.

She added that she considers all calls to be crisis calls, regardless of whether those calls come to Chimo’s housing, advocacy and outreach programs or its crisis line.

“Let’s face it – all the calls we get are from people in crisis,” said Geraghty. “They are people who are trying to resolve an issue.”

For all the latest COVID-19 news, click here.

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If you are having a mental health crisis, there is help available.

For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911. 

You can also contact Chimo's crisis line at 604-279-7070, available from 8 a.m. to midnight, or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and 310Mental Health Support (310-6789, do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number). Both are available 24 hours a day.

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