In-home energy assessment team pivots to provide social support to vulnerable communities

Authors: Devon Morrison, Clean Foundation, ENS and Kate Powe, United Way

In early March, the global COVID-19 pandemic led the Nova Scotia government to issue a State of Emergency. Schools were closed, borders tightened, schools moved to virtual learning, and many businesses paused operations of their services and programs.  

One program impacted by this global pandemic was the HomeWarming program. Through HomeWarming, eligible Nova Scotians receive free upgrades to their homes to make them more energy efficient and manage their energy costs. The program is delivered by Efficiency Nova Scotia and supported by Nova Scotia Power and the Province of Nova Scotia. Clean Foundation has worked on electrically heated homes in the HomeWarming program since 2015. 

Before COVID-19 the HomeWarming team, including contractors from across the province, spent much of their time inside the homes of Nova Scotians, helping them  better understand how their homes work and what type of upgrades may help improve comfort and reduce heating and cooling costs.  

Nova Scotia Power and the Nova Scotia Government recognized that many citizens faced challenges in these extraordinary times, and working with EfficiencyOne decided to redirect $3 million from the HomeWarming Program to address urgent needs, and increased demand during the pandemic.    

The redirected funding supported a number of organizations across the province that help families and individuals with necessities like food and shelter, and offer support to help people stay connected.  In these uncertain times, repurposing some HomeWarming funds provided continued support to the Nova Scotians who are most in need. 

Staff from EfficiencyOne and Clean Foundation augmented this direct financial contribution by offering their time to coordinate volunteer efforts and act as a boots-on-the-ground volunteer workforce for programs across the province.  

Nova Scotians depend on a network of charities, non-profits, community groups, and other supportive social agencies to get through daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for social programs that offer basic needs like food, safe shelter, and connection and mental health supports across the region. However, the organizations that coordinate these support programs were not insulated from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. As demand was growing, many organizations were struggling to find financial means and enough volunteer capacity to meet the growing needs of the community.  

Understanding the ins and outs of charitable social work in Nova Scotia is not the forte of the HomeWarming Program. The team needed a partner with working knowledge of what was needed and where. Working with an amazing group from the United Way, the team developed a partnership and helped shape a network of volunteer support.  

United Way Halifax is a donor-funded, community building organization and a local leader in poverty solutions. At the onset of COVID-19, 11 United Ways in Atlantic Canada launched the Atlantic Compassion Fund in partnership with Atlantic Business Interiors. The fund was designed to help charitable organizations across the region respond to the immediate and emerging needs of their communities facing the pandemic. United Way Halifax managed the fund, and since its launch, over 375 front-line charities have received support across Atlantic Canada. 

When the Clean Foundation and Efficiency One offered their skilled team members to support the community during this crisis, we were thrilled. The skills and abilities the team offers has extended the reach of United Way by coordinating and directly supporting the needs of grassroots charities. Many of these front-line charities were feeling the strain of the pandemic on their staff and volunteers, and this partnership offered some much-needed relief.” – Kate Powe, Relationship & Development Officer, United Way Halifax 

In Cape Breton, our volunteers were able to aid The Good Food Bus in rolling out a program that assists people experiencing isolation and food insecurity. Our volunteers had a hand in receiving, packing, and delivering over 2,262 emergency grocery bags throughout CBRM. Not only did this initiative ensure Cape Bretoners had access to healthy food, but it also reduced the need for vulnerable populations to risk exposure to the COVID-19 virus by venturing out for groceries and other basic staple items.  

“In the earlier weeks when COVID first hit, most people were too nervous to volunteer or even go out of their homes, and to be able to lean on you all at Clean was a huge relief. We knew we needed to provide some food assistance to as many people as possible in CBRM and to have a group like you guys step up and work with us was amazing. Knowing that we had a solid group in you guys was wonderful! You always came through! “  

– Emma Jerrott, Good Food Bus Coordinator 

In Halifax, our volunteer team was fortunate to work with Hope Blooms – an award-winning youth-centered social enterprise with a focus in addressing food insecurity, social inclusion, poverty and education. Volunteers from Clean helped to establish over 9,000 square feet of urban garden space in north end Halifax. This garden space will provide free healthy meals and snacks, organic vegetables and fruits to residents of HRM. Hope Blooms also offers scholarships and education on everything from agriculture to ecosystems. 

The Halifax chapter of YWCA needed help with the landscaping around their two buildings and needed some interior spaces painted in order to welcome a new mom into the program. The team jumped in and raked, mowed, whipper-snipped, and generally beautified the yards, while another team member readied the new unit.  

The United Way of Cape Breton had received a donation of internet connective devices (cell phones, tablets, computers) but had no way of getting these to those most in need.  The team did a contactless pickup of the devices, tested, sanitized and delivered them throughout the CBRM to isolated seniors, students and homes with young children. This project facilitated online contact when so many people were missing their social interactions with family members. This initiative also helped students and children keep up with ongoing learning as schools and universities moved to online and at-home activities. 

Through a coordinated effort with Shelter Nova Scotia, a crew of five staff were sent to clean and rejuvenate two shelter sites in Halifax.  Since residents were offered lodging through a network of hotels during the pandemic, temporary vacancies at these shelters provided a rare opportunity to conduct a deep cleaning service. It was inspiring to be able to seize this as an opportunity and bring the sites some much appreciated attention, preparing them to receive folks in need with a newly spruced up and organized space. 

As public health restrictions are eased across Nova Scotia and businesses are gradually returning to normal operations, the Clean Foundation and EfficiencyOne staff who participated will not soon forget their experiences working with strong and dedicated volunteer organizations across our province. These groups are the backbone of our communities.  The team was humbled to be able to be a small part in assisting them where we could lend a hand. Although our volunteer workforce was a temporary arrangement, the relationships built during the past three months will be lasting.     

As part of our collective and ongoing work to build back a better economy, we must remember that a sustainable future depends on healthy and strong foundations, communities, social and charitable enterprises, and a deep care for our most vulnerable.  

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