Never Alone website and chat line offer support for marginalized youth

As a teenager Vincent Brissette saw several friends make poor decisions that led them down a dark path. This taught him firsthand a lesson in the importance of having strong support systems in one’s life. Acting as a resource for his friends during the time also instilled in Vincent a desire to give back to other youth facing similar issues.  Over the past year,  Vincent, now a second-year medical student at McGill University, has been volunteering with Head & Hands, a Montreal-based organization that has been working to promote physical and mental health for at-risk youth in the city since 1970.

Vincent’s involvement with the organization began when they were looking for medical students to help work on the opening of a safe injection site, an initiative which he continues to actively work on. He also received training in harm reduction and delivered a number of workshops in the community on the subject, with the goal of reducing harm related to drug use.

Providing a lifeline during uncertain times

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Vincent and the team at Head & Hands knew that at-risk youth and other marginalized populations would be faced with yet a new set of challenges. “The pandemic is causing a lot of anxiety and social problems within certain communities,” says Vincent. “For example, if someone is a victim of conjugal violence and has to stay isolated with the perpetrator, that person will likely suffer. Additionally, many people within these communities don’t know how to properly search for answers to their questions related to COVID-19 or where to turn for resources.”

In response, Vincent and the team at Head & Hands worked for weeks to develop the Never Alone website and chatline. “Our site and chatline not only shed light on the virus and its implications, but also answer questions for pregnant women, new immigrants, users and certain populations that are not generally specifically targeted by the media,” explains Vincent.

The site provides a bevy of resources for marginalized populations. “Giving them adequate resources to stay safe and protect themselves is essential,” notes Vincent. Among the included resources are addresses for shelters and food banks. “Our approach is to offer support in a harm reductive, non-directional way, therefore our volunteers are trained in active listening.”

With the virus causing anxiety to many, which could lead some to feel overwhelmed and struggling mentally, the services designed by Vincent and the team at Head & Hands also offer help in the form of an attentive ear to people in crisis. At the moment the approximately 20 volunteers receive training from Vincent on the virus and its implications in addition to active listening training delivered by a social worker. “We want people to feel safe while being referred to the appropriate entities that can help,” says Vincent. “It’s important to note that we are offering referral services for people in crisis, not counselling services, which would be offered by KidsHelpPhone, for example.”

The team is always looking for more volunteers, and anyone interested can complete the form found on the website.

“We should never underestimate the power of support,” muses Vincent. “It can bring light through the darkest of times.”

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April 28 2020