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Bright Spot: Communities integrate focus on ending homelessness as part of their COVID-19 response

July 23, 2020 - 2:00 am / News

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, 33 Built for Zero Canada communities from seven provinces and 1 territory share their successes and commitments to remaining mission-focused on ending chronic and veteran homelessness at the June Built for Zero Canada Virtual Learning Session. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.


Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. 

Communities had next to no time to prepare for COVID-19 when it hit Canada in March. People were told to stay home and social distance in order to lower their risk of catching COVID-19—those living on the streets or in shelters could do neither. Communities had no choice but to move quickly so people could isolate and stay safe. The pandemic became a health emergency on top of the housing emergency that already existed in so many neighbourhoods across the country.  

The immediate response was about adapting to the situation—but many communities leveraged this as an opportunity to not only ensure enough emergency facilities came online to allow for social distancing, but by staying on mission to connect people to permanent housing. At the Built for Zero Canada (BFZ-C) June Learning Session, communities celebrated milestones and shared their tactics and actions at the onset of the pandemic.  

During this period, Halifax, Red Deer and Saint John all achieved a Quality By-Name List and Waterloo Region confirmed a Quality Coordinated Access system. Dufferin County, Guelph-Wellington, and Chatham-Kent all sustained reductions in chronic homelessness (ranging from 28%-42%). For further information see progress tables and public dashboards on the Built for Zero website on the Community Progress page. Every community has been doing amazing work in responding to COVID-19 with housing-focused responses. A few are highlighted below: 

  • While managing an emergency COVID-19 response in the homeless sector, on April 26 Fort McMurray, AB had to put evacuation orders in effect due to a once in every 50year flood. The team not only had to deal with the pandemic, they were also now managing an evacuation. For Fort McMurray, ending homelessness is the ultimate goal no matter what health crises or natural disaster occurs at their doorstep. During all this, Fort McMurray also started a diversion program.  
  • London, ON has since made history by becoming the first community in Canada to have a BNL for veteran homelessness, which is an effort months in the making. It helps veterans get prioritized for housing and other services. This community managed to get its Veteran BNL verified by BFZ-C in the midst of a global pandemic—on top of their efforts to keep people safe.

  • On June 1st, Niagara Region, ON, actioned a Housing Focused Shelter Pilot to ensure ability for shelters to practice physical distancing and accelerate moves from shelter into housing. The Niagara team has since connected 15 people to housing supports, and of those, 4 have secured permanent housing, 1 has moved into supportive housing, and 7 others have applied for permanent residences – that’s in addition to the 22 people who moved into permanent housing out of Niagara’s hotel isolation shelter for clients who needed to self-isolate or were COVID-19 positive. While staying in the isolation hotel, 22 clients were able to maintain or start addiction support programs as a result of Niagara’s strong coordination with local primary care providers.

  • Windsor-Essex nurtured a culture of growth by leaning into and seeking feedback from the network of BFZ-C communities. For instance, Windsor-Essex shared their client pathway of how people experiencing homelessness are triaged to different spaces and supports to help other municipalities build and map their response. The Windsor-Essex team also worked hard to action mass COVID-19 testing in shelters to measure impacts and prevent spread among their neighbours experiencing homelessness and shared their learnings and tools with the network of BFZ-C communities. 

Stay tuned for a Bright Spot specifically highlighting Toronto’s efforts, coming next week! 

The pandemic so far has tested communities’ resilience to avoid catastrophic losses of life—which they did avoid—by not just making sure people were able to socially distance, but to ultimately access the best defense against the coronavirus: a home.   

This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.