Bronson Safe Open – The Flu Shot Against Loneliness

“We have more people dying from the loneliness epidemic than from COVID.”

               – Sonja Cronkhite, Executive Director – Psychiatric Survivors Ottawa (PSO)

 

A hub of community and help.

 

Bronson Center is home to many non-profit organizations that provide programs and services to benefit people who need help in our neighbourhood.

 

Orkidstra helps kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford it, to learn to play music; Dalhousie Non-Profit Housing Co-op helps connect people to affordable housing; Jaku Konbit provides a range of services led by and for the Afro Caribbean community; Dalhousie Food Cupboard provides community food programs; Women’s Initiatives for Safer Environments offers community safety programs; BEING Studio offers skills and marketing services for artists with developmental challenges; Yet Keen Seniros Day Centre offers Chinese seniors arts, culture, learning and volunteer opportunities.

 

That’s just of few of the more than 30 organizations that call the Bronson Centre home.

 

Many of these organizations see seniors and families at the hardest points in their life and offer help that makes a difference.

 

At first, when seniors from Bronson Centre organizations were told to self-isolate last March, the risks and inconveniences of the pandemic didn’t seem to compare to other life experiences. Most people over 55 have already known hardships.  The pandemic was not the worst thing life threw at them.

 

 

Isolation is hurting people. Especially older people.

 

But as we now approach nine months of isolation and another hard Ottawa winter ahead, COVID is hurting older adults.

 

People 55+ are much more likely to become lonely, less active, grow frail, become depressed, experience advancing dementia or eat poorly. The loss of meals and visits and outings with family and friends is hurting seniors and communities.

 

While social isolation has been going on for years, the pandemic and the rising number of boomers affected has made us much more aware of the problems.

 

 

Urgent need.  Real response.

 

At the Bronson Centre, the pandemic is raising awareness of both the growing urgency of social isolation and the social strengths available to address problems.

 

When Psychiatric Survivors Ottawa (PSO) Executive Director Sonja Cronkhite realized the pandemic was devastating her members, she scrambled to find a safe space large enough to allow socially-distanced in-person group meetings.  The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa – a charity that supports adult and young women who may become or are involved in the criminal justice system to address issues of poverty, homelessness and violence – was facing similar urgent needs with their clients.  Flo’s Seniors was struggling to support Ottawa’s Afro Caribbean community, by increasing access to digital technology and virtual programs.

 

 

Bronson Safe Open

 

Through the Bronson RISE project funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, our Bronson RISE team has worked with all three organizations to develop the Bronson Safe Open project to support people in our community to thrive this COVID winter.

 

Through Bronson Safe Open, PSO has already begun to offer regular in-person meetings in the large meeting room – Mac Hall – in the Bronson Centre.  PSO developed enhanced safety guidelines to ensure masks and hand sanitizer are readily available, seating spaces are a safe distance, limited numbers of participants are registered, and contact tracing is enforced.  E Fry Ottawa will soon begin offering similar in-person drop-ins and meetings, along with a calendar of virtual activities that Flo’s Seniors offers on-line through Zoom, free of charge to all seniors in the Ottawa area.

 

The work of these three organizations to develop Bronson Safe Open creates real places and virtual spaces where people can come together and build a shared sense of belonging, plus positive connections and networks – enriching individual wellbeing and resilience.

 

 

An intervention into isolation. 

 

These are some of the essential ingredients in addressing loneliness and social isolation.  We know that effective interventions to reduce social isolation often address practical barriers to being with others, like mobility problems, poverty, or lack of transportation.

 

But helping to change a lonely person’s mindset is the essential ingredient in changing the experience.  Re-engaging with society needs the right mental space, not just practical opportunities to socialize on-line or in-person.

 

Finding meaning and a sense of belonging is at the heart of tackling loneliness.

 

Support to do this can take many shapes, from helping people with mental health challenges to safely attend friendly support group meetings – like PSO does – to creating virtual spaces for activities and interactions that are driven by and facilitated by seniors, like Flo’s Seniors is doing with the online workshops.  These are very different approaches, but both work by supporting people to do what matters to them.

 

 

Loneliness needs a plan.

 

Seniors and families should start talking about their options for reducing their risk of loneliness this winter as a kind of prevention plan – like getting a flu shot.

 

Finding meaningful experiences as we get older, could be volunteering for a cause you believe in right here in the Bronson Centre, taking on responsibilities that make you feel useful and valued, maintaining or developing the interests and relationships you care about. They all involve looking beyond yourself, and beyond perceived loneliness, to focus on what matters to you.

 

Everyone has a part to play in preventing loneliness, so kindness matters.   Isolation can make people feel very fragile so a friendly welcome can be the difference between making a real connection or withdrawing again.  Small moments of connection from looking out for a neighbour, to smiling and saying hello can make a big difference.

 

We can all help to improve people’s perception of themselves, the people around them and the places where they live.

 

We all have it in us to give that shot of comfort, community and companionship.

 

As the Bronson Safe Open project welcomes participants both on-site and on-line this winter, we hope you’ll join us.

 

To learn more and to register for programs, visit our registration page here, or contact:

 

Tara Hunt

Bronson Safe Open

Community Outreach Activity Coordinator

(343) 999-9110

Email – bronson.safeopen@outlook.com

 

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