April 15, 2020
Primary livestream: facebook.com/OcapToronto/
Backup (in case primary doesn’t work): Zoom | Meeting: 959 1291 4833, PW: 011150
Toronto: With at least 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toronto’s overcrowded and under resourced shelters, respites and drop-ins, the time to prevent catastrophic consequences for homeless people and shelter staff is running out.
“In a span of two weeks since the first case surfaced, we’ve seen the virus spread to at least seven different homeless facilities, most with congregate living arrangements. Photographic and testimonial evidence from existing facilities indicates that operators cannot implement public health standards necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Over two weeks ago, the City proudly announced that they had procured 1200 hotel rooms but they have filled less than half of those to date,” says Jessica Hales, nurse practitioner who works with homeless people in the city’s downtown east end.
A memo from the City to shelter operators sent following the latest outbreak of COVID-19 at the Willowdale Welcome Centre, indicates that the City still has no clear timeline for when it will move homeless people into hotels. It also states the City has not even tried to procure unused student residences at shuttered colleges and universities (see here and here).
“The City has nearly 5,000 people crammed into existing homeless facilities. Thousands more are sleeping outside in tents because they can’t get into shelters. But the City’s goal this week–a full month after this crisis began–is to have just 550 rooms filled. Thousands of rooms are needed to move homeless people out of danger. Board of health chair Joe Cressy agrees, saying we need ‘one person, one room, one home,’ but the City isn’t anywhere near that and has no discernible plan to get there,” says Cathy Crowe, street nurse and homeless advocate.
“The situation is at a breaking-point. Over 300 doctors and nurse practitioners are calling for immediate COVID-19 outreach testing, physical distancing in all shelters and respites, and the rapid movement of people into hotels, housing and residences. Without this we fear there will be preventable deaths and outbreaks with broad public health implications,” says Dr. Michaela Beder, one of the 313 doctors and nurse practitioners who released an open letter to the Mayor yesterday demanding immediate and rapid action.
“We’ve tried polite persuasion, we’ve produced evidence of dangerous conditions, we’ve held news conferences, but the City still isn’t taking it seriously. So now we’re putting ourselves on the line to demand the City rapidly move homeless people into hotels or housing. Time is not on our side and we can’t just watch homeless people get sick and die. The city must act now,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
The City must commit to a rapid and reliable timeline to accomplish the following:
1. Move all homeless people into hotel rooms or housing.
2. Open day shelters to provide access to food, washrooms, showers, laundry, telephones and service referrals.
3. Implement regular and accessible sentinel surveillance mobile or onsite COVID-19 testing at all shelters, respites, and at daytime and 24 hour drop-ins.
4. Connect all homeless facilities to health care workers to ensure effective and accurate screening.
5. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to shelter residents exhibiting symptoms and all staff working at homeless facilities.
6. Enable harm reduction services, including witnessed injection, within all hotels and isolation sites.