When the pandemic hit, Tony lost his job in hotel maintenance and, for the first time in his life, found himself homeless. But, he heard about The Well through some friends. “I’ve found support here and resources,” he says.
Each week, as many as five new people show up at The Well. They’re wrestling not only with the stress of continued lockdowns and social distancing, but with severe mental illnesses and poverty—challenges that have been magnified in numerous ways in recent months. Some, like Tony, have lost employment or housing, and many are struggling as services they depended upon have been placed on pause.
“It has been very difficult to complete regular tasks because everything is closed, or we don’t have access to the resources we need,” explains Well Community member Joshua. “I have to depend on others if I need to use the internet or the phone.” But at The Well, he’s found assistance and support in navigating this challenging time. “[The Well’s staff] help me by making phone calls to schedule doctor appointments, contact people I need to talk to or to search for information online. I found a safe place to go.”
Like Joshua, many members are up against even more hurdles than usual in accessing mental health care from qualified professionals. In addition to the struggle to schedule appointments, social distancing regulations have made it even harder to be seen by a doctor or therapist. In addition, those who rely on public transportation may find themselves without a way to get to appointments or pick up prescriptions.
Although COVID-19 has led to increased use of telehealth for a wide range of medical concerns, those seeking to manage serious mental illnesses face numerous barriers to benefiting from online appointments. Many have internet access only in public locations, and as many places like libraries have closed their doors or limited occupancy, these individuals have lost much of their ability to receive web-based care. In addition, those who do have internet access often lack a private environment in which they would feel comfortable sharing freely with a therapist.
In addition to facing added layers of hurdles in accessing services, resources and health care, Well Community members are dealing with a devastating loss of connection—for many, the most difficult aspect of life during the pandemic. They’re individuals who have often struggled to find a place where they’re accepted and have found it challenging to build and maintain relationships. They’re people who, due to stigma, often face discrimination and unkindness. And, during the pandemic, isolation—something that can erode mental health in and of itself—has become even more pronounced.
Since March, The Well has had to cancel its Community Life Center and Thursday Night Life programs, leaving a huge gap in the lives of members. For many, The Well Community was not only where they ate their only hot meals of the week, but the place where they found a shelter of the acceptance and enjoyed the company of others. “I miss seeing my friends at The Well,” says member Delores. “I miss doing devotions and our Thursday night service.”
As The Well has sought to continue to serve its members while adhering to measures to protect them and its staff from the virus, community has been a priority. Those who come to pick up lunches outside The Well are greeted with kindness, and many sit outside and socialize as they eat their meals. Staff offer not only crisis management services but friendly phone calls to check in during a time when isolation can be particularly devastating.
“The meals are important,” says Gemma Cardenas, The Well Community’s Program and Volunteer Coordinator. “But the sense of community is life-giving.” People come to The Well seeking not only a filling lunch but also companionship, and they’re drawn back by the connections they make with others who understand and care. Tony, for instance, shares that he returns to check on the people he’s met at The Well and see how they’re doing.
While members are grateful for continued opportunities to connect, not being able to meet for regular programs and worship has been difficult. Rita shares, “I miss going to The Well and seeing all my friends there. I stay connected with a few members, but it’s not the same because we’re not able to see each other in person. … The Well gave me something to look forward to.”
We look forward to the day when the doors of The Well Community can once again open wide to our members. Until then, we give thanks for moments of connection and support, and for the many donors and volunteers who enable us to continue serving in a season of isolation.
Even amid the many challenges of the pandemic, there are numerous opportunities for friends of The Well Community to get involved and make a difference in the lives of our members. Click here to learn more about ways you can help those in our community who live with serious mental illnesses.