Ontario has now reached the third wave of COVID-19 that has been heavily anticipated yet poorly prepared for and ultimately unable to avoid. Rules and instructions in the province of Ontario have been unclear, ineffective and inconsistent which has led to an emergency stay at home order amidst new and frequently occurring variant strands of COVID-19 that are increased in severity and contagiousness. Many are facing new struggles in these difficult times that are greatly impacted by increasing rates of unemployment, resulting in more individuals forced into homelessness.
Although individuals and families are facing difficulties of their own: mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially, we must be open to and acknowledge those in our communities that have had to face eviction due to unemployment and unstable incomes during lockdowns, as well as those who have been experiencing homelessness for quite some time. Sharing dorms, crowded shelters and encampments are attributing to increased air-born covid transmissions. Access to food, bathrooms, and hygiene in general is a main concern while maintaining physical distancing and is nearly impossible. Once the virus is exposed in a shelter, it becomes difficult to control and contain, and even more difficult to eradicate. The Canadian Medical Association Journal found that those experiencing homelessness have an increased chance of death from COVID-19 by 5 times more than those who are settled, and are 20 times more likely to be hospitalized.
There are over 200,000 people experiencing homelessness, with 130,000 of them in emergency shelters across Canada. Vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness have become a priority in Ontario and have been placed in phase one of vaccinations. So far, only 1000 individuals have received vaccinations of the over 10,000 individuals in Toronto alone. As Canada continues to slowly receive shipments of vaccines, those experiencing homelessness should and will continue to be a priority.
The chronic stress of not having a stable housing, income, assured food and basic resources affects individuals experiencing homelessness physically. Poor nutrition and potential underlying or preexisting health conditions result in weak immune systems that are extremely susceptible to the virus and is reason for concern of proper recovery. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the City of Toronto has gone to great lengths to provide temporary shelters and hotel programs to ensure physical distancing. However, many are still in group shelter situations with less than ideal living conditions that can be improved. The goal has been to place these individuals in proper housing that meets the basic standard of needs and gives them the opportunity to remain physically distanced to hopefully improve, not only their personal well-being, but lower the cases province wide and across Canada. There is much work to be done when it comes to fighting two crises at the same time. United Way works with these communities in the GTA to provide individuals with basic needs of food, shelter and their own employment programs to help people become self-sufficient again. Learn more on how to support their important initiative: United Way Greater Toronto - Help Make Local Issues #UNIGNORABLE
These two crises individually are devastating, but combined has been incredibly difficult to improve and resolve. Here are a few more ways you could get involved in helping out those currently experiencing homelessness in Canada and around the world: