Traumatic stress and Mental Health Impacts of the COVID‑19 Pandemic on Front-Line Workers in Homeless Services

Waegemakers Schiff, Jeannette | $197,556

Alberta The University of Calgary 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

Lay Abstract: This proposal addresses the mental health impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on frontline workers in the homeless sector. Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic outbreak, our research reported high levels of direct traumatic stress among frontline workers. In five previous studies, we surveyed frontline workers in homeless services, in Calgary, Edmonton, AB, and Saint John, NB. Results showed consistently high rates of traumatic stress across all locations, exacerbated by lack of training, inadequate preparation for responses in a pandemic and a perceived lack of physical and psychological safety that could potentiate further primary traumatic stress. Given the sudden and protracted impact of the COVID‑19 virus and the systemic challenges faced in the social services, it is critical to examine how these experiences are impacting frontline workers’ mental health and well-being. The overall goal of this research is to document the extent to which the COVID‑19 crisis has impacted psychological well-being and work-related disability among frontline workers in the homeless sector. A second aim is to document rates of disability (stress) leave for staff through Workers’ Compensation Board claims to further asses the extent of this impact. Finally, we will extend the study to four other Canadian cities. Together this data will present important information on staff stress, the impact of the COVID‑19 virus, resultant disabilities, and possible mitigating factors resulting from organizational changes. Thus, this study would provide understanding of the pandemic’s impact on this vital workforce and illuminate any organizational actions that informed mitigating strategies for staff well-being. This is especially critical as health authorities predict a second and possible third wave of infections that would seriously deplete an already highly stressed group of essential workers.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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