We spoke with a number of 2SLGBTQQIA+ people about the ways that they and their communities have been personally impacted by COVID-19 to kick off The Canada-wide 2SLGBTQQIA+ COVID-19 Survey. Read Jeff Chalifoux’s story!
Jeff Chalifoux on how the internet is no replacement for community outreach
When COVID-19’s first lockdown began in March 2020, Two-Spirit social worker Jeff Chalifoux began working more hours than ever before. “I stretched myself very thin trying to support people in all my different roles,” he says, “But I’m not really ‘working.’ I’m engaging in a passion and something that’s very important to me.”
In amiskwaciy-wâskahikan (Edmonton), the need for frontline social workers has been critical. Every day, Jeff checks in on his regular clients through Peer N Peer, a 2SLGBTQ harm reduction program he founded through the Edmonton Men’s Health Collective, then spends hours every night in a van on the streets for Streetworks (the city’s longest-standing harm reduction program) and providing overnight assistance at COVID-19 isolation facilities. All this in addition to being a father to a seven-year-old son and pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Calgary (he also recently accepted a position as Executive Director of E2S, the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society).
Peer N Peer, a program he designed and coordinated, is primarily geared towards members of the queer community and provides harm reduction and mental health services. “A large part of the program is the delivery of necessities for harm reduction, including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis),” he explains. The program has been a huge success, and it’s truly a labour of love for Jeff, who has lost “too many friends to overdose or suicide and seen too many diagnosed with HIV.”
Unfortunately, social distancing protocols have hindered Jeff’s connection with his most vulnerable clients, some of which have stopped responding to his outreach. “I have a really good rapport with clients because I come at my work as a peer, without judgement,” he says. “But doing it over a telehealth platform has brought counseling basically to a standstill, because we’re talking about intimate things like how many sex partners someone has had, what kind of kinks and activities are involved, what kind of substances were used. And people are just not comfortable talking over the internet about those things.”
When he does speak with clients, providing practical and non-judgmental assistance has been key. “We’ve provided sex toys to allow people to fulfill their own sexual needs, as well as support on how to stay safe, how to get some friends with benefits that you trust, how to keep your bubble small.”
Through this difficult time, Jeff stresses that checking in on family, friends and community members is something we can all do to support each other.
How have you experienced the pandemic as a member of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community? Take our survey and share your thoughts with us.