Pricilla Melo, Canal Alliance Intake Specialist, talked to us about her experience since the COVID-19 crisis started and how her role supporting clients and community members has shifted during shelter in place. (Community members’ names have been changed.)
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
There’s been a lot of changes in the world and in my life, both at home and work. I never really watched the news and now I always want to get the information and see what’s happening. Everything has changed and it has affected me a lot. I have an illness, so I have to be more protected to not get coronavirus since I’m a little more at risk. I do take it all very personal and seriously. We’re all changing the way we work, including the way we greet each other. I’m adjusting to how we’re living now during shelter in place and how things are going to be when this is over.
What are some of the common challenges that you’re hearing about from clients right now?
Most of the clients I’ve spoken to are worried about not being able to pay their rent. I’ve also spoken to clients who don’t know if they will be able to return to the job they had because they are undocumented. They worry that their employers will ask them for documentation. Clients have also told me they are worried that they’re going to have to look for another job during a time where there are not many options for them.
Clients are suffering due to not having enough money to pay their bills or buy food for their family. Parents I talk to are worried about the impact this is all having on their children and how their own suffering and stress during this time may affect their children as well.
I’d also like to share something else that’s very personal for me. I was a victim of domestic violence. With everything that’s happening, I can’t imagine what people in this situation must be going through right now. I worry that there may be many people who are living with their abuser during shelter in place. They are stuck at home, without money and without a way to buy food or pay rent. Although the clients I’ve spoken to recently have not reported anything to me, we know that cases of domestic abuse existed before COVID-19 and I suspect that we may hear about this soon. Because I have been in this situation, I can’t imagine how it must feel to be locked in at home without a way out.
Is there a client that comes to mind who exemplifies increased need and perseverance during this time?
Last month I talked to client whose kindness and story made me cry. I was helping Antonio* apply for financial assistance through our Client Support Fund. I told him we would help him and his wife each with $350. He thought the money was a loan, but I explained to him that he would not have to pay us back. Initially, he also didn’t realize that we wanted to help them both and they would be receiving $700 total. When I told him that, he started to cry.
Antonio later told me that he had never been to Canal Alliance to ask for assistance because he had a job and too much pride to ask for help, even when he had needed it. Antonio also said to me, “after all of this is over, you will be hearing from me because what you are doing for us right now, I never thought anyone would ever do. I’m going to find a way to show Canal Alliance how grateful I am for what you are doing for my family.”
I told Antonio that the best thing he could do right now was to take care of his family. Still, he insisted that he wanted to express his gratitude by giving back to us in some way, too.
I know that $350 is not a lot of money for some people, but it’s important to keep in mind that for many in the Canal, it’s help that they did not expect to receive. People are very grateful for the assistance we’ve been able to provide.
I think that Canal Alliance is not just an agency, we’re like a family. It’s amazing to me that despite everything we are going through during the pandemic and shelter in place – including not having training or time to prepare for something like this – we moved quickly to continue working with clients. We’ve been working to continue helping clients every day. And I think this has helped us grow as a strong family and to better serve our community.
How is mental health coming up for clients during this time?
I was on a call with a client to help her apply for financial assistance. Alma* was very pleased to hear we would be able to help her and then, before we were about to end our call, she asked me to stay on the phone with her. Alma said, “I know you’re very busy because you are helping a lot of other people, but would you please stay on the phone with me for a minute?” And then she started to cry. I stayed on the phone with her and listened to her, told her it was OK to cry, and she proceeded to tell me that she just didn’t know what to do.
Alma doesn’t know how to help her children with their homework because she didn’t go to school and can’t read or write. It’s been stressful for her family as her children’s homework becomes more difficult. She told me her oldest son had been through a lot recently. He had been a victim of a crime and is in therapy. Alma’s younger son also needs a lot of help with school. Because so much is out of her control, Alma told me that she doesn’t know that she can be a strong mother for her children. She told me she doesn’t know what steps to take or what solutions exist, if any. Alma is definitely someone who needs to speak to a mental health professional that can offer solutions and help her through this emotionally challenging time.
I also know that there are many clients who hold a lot back because they’re afraid to be vulnerable. That’s a problem when it comes to addressing mental health in the Latino community. I know that the clients are experiencing grief and pain and they’re holding it all in which doesn’t help. I think clients would benefit from speaking to a professional who can help them through this difficult time.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job right now?
The work that Cristina (another Canal Alliance Intake Specialist) and I do daily is so much more than just answering the phones and filling out forms. It’s an important job. I want others to know that we are more than just receptionists. Our role during this crisis is a lot like being a social worker, a therapist and a little bit of everything depending on what clients need.
So many of our clients are struggling with their mental health. They cry and talk to us about their problems because we understand what they’re going through and we’re there for them to listen. We’re ready to take on whatever comes our way. Even if we don’t have all the answers, we’re there doing our best to help and give advice.
What gives you hope?
The hope that I have, I feel it comes from working for an agency that feels – and is – like a family. We spend the most time together, sometimes even more so than with our children or spouses. We have all grown together and been able to better serve our community because of it.
This is what gives me hope – to keep fighting and keep growing, because I know there is potential. Everyone at Canal Alliance takes initiative and does their part. This gives me hope and brings me joy. And knowing that it’s not just the Canal that’s experiencing these changes, but it’s all of Marin County that has the potential for change and growth.
Learn more about our Crisis Response & Impact
While we hear many devastating individual stories, we are inspired by the resilience of our clients. We are also heartened by the generosity of our volunteers and donors who support our emergency response efforts.