In March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated many rapid changes to service delivery within the community mental health and addiction sector. In order to support agencies, E-QIP launched our #QIOnTheFly initiative to help organizations document the rapid changes they were making to their services in order to continue to support clients and tenants while balancing the need for safety. This Digital Health Week, we are highlighting the inspiring work of E-QIP alumni who rose to face these unprecedented challenges to the community mental health and addiction sector.

Recently, we caught up with E-QIP alumni, Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing to see if their change idea of distributing cell phones to their most vulnerable tenants has been sustained and the impact of this digital innovation on tenants and staff. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Do you plan to sustain this innovation? If yes, how has this innovation impacted tenants at Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing?

Providing tenants with a phone was instrumental during the pandemic as it gave people options and an avenue where they had the freedom to communicate with the outside world and feel connected. This program has been successful and we are exploring different ways to sustain the program. We will continue advocacy work on different platforms to increase social assistance and pursue funding opportunities to fund this initiative so that it can be sustained. In addition, we will work with tenants to provide them with life skills education and financial management/budgeting skills.

108 tenants are actively using the phone line at no monthly cost to tenants as we are covering monthly bills. Since we started this program 20 phones have been lost, stolen or misplaced. Staff, external supports, family and friends have been able communicate with tenants to maintain housing, support mental health, prevent crises and reduce social isolation. Tenants have used their phone to make appointments, submit work orders and regularly check in with staff.  These regular phone check ins have been especially important for tenants who live in scattered units, as workers are not able to visit every day.

One potential challenge of this program is that financially tenants cannot keep up with the monthly phone bill. Many of the tenants who received phones had not had phones for a long time due to the limitations of living on social assistance and some of them struggling with substance use. Many tenants had consistent struggles maintaining a cell phone plan on the very limited funds they received from social assistance. We will need to explore funding options in order to sustain this initiative.

Q: Can you share any specific examples of how this program has supported your tenants during the pandemic?

During Covid one of our tenants was hospitalized and prescribed bed rest for several months, thereby severely limiting her mobility. During this time having access to a cell phone enabled her to have a means of communication with her support system without having to worry about an additional financial expense. In addition to helping her connect with her friends and supports, the cell phone made it easier to a create a well-supported discharge plan. After coming home, her cell phone has helped her tremendously to get access day-to-day services. She uses it to provide access to nurse and PSW who visits 4 times a day.  She can also control access for food and medication deliveries, stay in touch with the housing worker, call EMS as required. Her cell phone has now become an integral part of her support plan.

Q: What has been the feedback from staff? Has this program presented any challenges?

This initiative has provided tenants with a greater sense of community as it has allowed tenants to stay connected to family, friends and community supports. This has been especially important during the pandemic when lockdowns have resulted in significant periods of social isolation. As one tenant stated, “the program is excellent. It has helped me stay in touch with people and I don’t feel trapped anymore.” Tenant cell phones have acted as a reliable lifeline to tackle this isolation as tenants have been able to stay connected to supports in our office as well as their support networks. In addition, cell phones have given tenants the freedom and capacity to resolve issues on their own.

In addition to the financial resources required to sustain this program, one challenge we have found is the issue of tenants losing phones. This has occurred in a small percentage of program participants and is an issue we are continuing to work on.

Overall this program has been hugely successful and instrumental in providing our tenants with a lifeline to services and supports they otherwise would not have access to during the pandemic.”   

For more information on this initiative, please contact Parvin Merchant (she/her), Director of Support Services at