Casa Alianza Mexico Navigates Rising Pandemic
Monserrat, 20, is working hard toward her goal of independence. A resident in Casa Alianza Mexico’s apartment program, she’s going to school and holding down a job. When COVID-19 caused her employer to cut back Monserrat’s hours, the youth worried she wouldn’t be able to cover her rent. Overcoming homelessness—and so close to her goal—she felt a cascade of seemingly inevitable consequences tumbling toward her.
Thankfully, Monserrat says, she is not alone. “Casa Alianza is supporting me by helping me to cover my rent and build a plan for catching up. They constantly check in on me by telephone and video calls and are always ready to help,” she says.
Monserrat is one of more than 560 young people Casa Alianza Mexico (CAM) reaches every year through street outreach and residential programs. Covenant House established CAM in Mexico City in 1988. Now, in 2020, with COVID-19 stalking the country, our staff are faced with the challenge of how to keep the children and youth healthy, safe, and on track to their goals.
“Many people think it’s easy, but it isn’t. I get so nervous,” says Luis, 13, a shelter resident. “This pandemic situation has messed with my goals because now I can’t go to school. It affects my attitude, my thoughts, my personality,” he says. “I just keep studying here at Casa Alianza. The staff let us take some online career-oriented training courses to help us stay focused in a positive way. They always support us, and I’m so glad they’re here with us.”
While in the U.S. and Canada, where Covenant House also works, cities are beginning to reopen, Mexico has yet to see the peak of expected infections. At the end of May, the country ranked second among Latin American nations with the most COVID-19 deaths. And the official count may not represent the true extent of the pandemic’s toll.
Complicating matters, the Mexican health care system is underfunded and ill-equipped to meet COVID-19’s onslaught. The government has acknowledged it has at least 200,000 fewer health care workers than it needs, for instance. That makes the preventive measures CAM is taking to stave off the disease and protect our children and youth all the more important.
Mario Gutiérrez is a counselor on the evening shift at one of CAM’s residences “We staff take every precaution to ensure the protection of the youth and ourselves, sanitizing hands and faces, taking temperatures, and looking for any signs of illness,” he says. “Twice a week, a nurse looks in on the youth and responds to any medical issues that might arise.”
From the time the pandemic first arrived in Mexico, staff carried out a COVID-19 awareness campaign with the children and gave each one a “protection kit,” including gloves, face masks, and hand sanitizer. The staff’s “protection kit” also included thermometers and oximeters, and each residence is equipped with personal protective suits and isolation rooms, should symptomatic youth need to be separated.
Our frontline staff remain present 24/7 with the children and youth, with each one working eight-hour shifts three days a week at the residences.
Leaving home and crisscrossing a sprawling Mexico City in public transportation in order to reach the youth is risky, Mario says. But his work is his vocation, he underscores. “I do it with love, respect, responsibility, and professionalism because I like my work and I like caring for the children and youth. And that’s the way it’s been for me for nearly 12 years,” he says.
That devotion is making all the difference for youth like Monserrat and Luis, as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its challenges and uncertainties, continue to mount in Mexico.