COVID Lessons #1

July 30, 2021

Covid Lessons logo

After months of following public health protocols and thanks to the strong, continuing vaccination efforts, many of us are wondering, “is the end of the Covid-19 pandemic in sight?” If not the end, hopefully we are arriving at a new normal, which is seeing restrictions lifted, even though face masking in enclosed, crowded spaces and hand washing vigilance must continue, and we know we must reduce our impact on our fragile planet.

In the coming weeks we would like to share some of the observations Street Health staff have made during Covid. We hope this will build wider awareness of the relentless issues impacting those who are homeless, how Street Health’s services are adapting and continuing, as well as the hopes we have moving forward.

Lesson #1: Encampments – People have nowhere to go.

For Street Health clients, the marginalization and stigma that existed pre-Covid has been magnified in the last year and a half.

The initial days of service closures and restrictions left individuals struggling to maintain even their most basic needs including: experiencing food insecurity, having no access to washrooms and losing access to their usual information sources. People who lacked the ability to “stay home”, because they have no home, were frequently the victims of punitive police ticketing (covid-ticketing-survey.pdf (streethealth.ca)

When the city mobilized hotel space, it focused on isolation spaces for those who tested positive for Covid. Then and now, we see shelters operating at a reduced capacity due to distancing requirements and even with those hotel spaces that are now providing temporary shelter, the spaces available have not been sufficient to deal with the need.

Now those who sought refuge in encampments for reasons of safety and to regain their sense of community are facing the horror of removal by force. These people still have nowhere to go. Meanwhile they are enduring the constant threat of and trauma from a forced eviction. While we have been talking about compassion and the need for equity during Covid, our systems are still in place to punish those who are marginalized and struggling.

The only answer and what Street Health has been advocating for years, is a renewed focus on housing from all levels of government. This must include permanent housing and supported housing, at manageable rental rates.

“People who are forced from encampments may have access to a city housing worker, however, where are housing options for someone who relies on income supports, like OW or ODSP, and has a housing budget of $390 per month?” comments Kelly White, OPS Coordinator. “Even during the pandemic, when some rental prices dropped, this didn’t create opportunities for people who are marginalized and also often face further obstacles including stigma and discrimination.”  

As part of the effort to ensure individuals have what they need to apply for and be eligible for housing, Street Health now has a dedicated Identification (ID) Outreach Worker working with those who remain in encampments across the city.

“Street Health’s Harm Reduction Outreach Workers make regular visits to those in the encampments. The team ensures that people have access to harm reduction supplies and personal care/hygiene and have the opportunity to speak to a knowledgeable worker who can provide information and solid referrals,” highlights Alina Przybyl, ID Outreach Worker. “Now we also bring ID access to these locations. We know that when people lack housing, they have an increased risk of ID being lost or stolen. Through this new effort, people have support for obtaining their ID. This is an essential step toward obtaining housing and can be used with Street Health’s ID Safe, which stores ID and provides a secure mailing address. This is another example of how Street Health’s services are provided – where and when – supports are needed.”   

As we look to the fall and the next federal election, it will be an important time to keep the urgent need for housing front and center on the minds of voters and politicians.

Watch in the coming weeks for more Lessons from Covid. Be safe.