Media Release: Emergency shelters and housing providers are not receiving the support they need from local and provincial authorities fast enough to keep vulnerable people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.
People experiencing homelessness are at high risk from COVID-19, are unable to take routine preventative measures like self-isolation to protect themselves, have poor access to health care, and live in situations that dramatically magnify the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Provincial and local public health and emergency management authorities have been too slow to respond to the needs of homeless Canadians.
The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), on behalf of homelessness sector community leaders and organizations across Canada, is urging Public Health officials and emergency managers to urgently equip and support their local shelters and housing providers with what they need before the outbreak becomes out of control.
The CAEH has been in regular contact with homeless sector community leaders across Canada. Of 45 communities in seven provinces who responded to a formal survey this week, the most critical challenges are lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (68%), staffing shortages or not enough staff to properly respond to COVID-19 (59%), and lack of essential supplies like hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies (48%). Only 25% of communities interviewed have been able to develop and implement a plan for preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19 in emergency shelters, but all are working on one. One of the top challenges we heard over and over is that public health was not prioritizing their needs coupled with a limited response from public health and/or municipal emergency planning groups. Only 7% had a plan to respond to people sleeping rough or in encampments. Read the survey results here.
“Provincial and local public health officials and emergency managers must provide immediate COVID-19 testing, provide PPE (masks, gloves, gowns) to shelter providers, and support shelters to provide space for social distancing, isolation and quarantine,” says Tim Richter, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness President & CEO. “We’re hearing at a local level, and across Canada that many providers are not hearing back from their health authorities to get what they need to mitigate this outbreak—not just to provide social isolation for their clients in a dignified way but to even meet the basic need in a pandemic.”
There is growing fear that shelters across the country may be forced to shut down because of staff loss and lack of supplies to stay open and keep people safe, leaving clients with nowhere else to go. Most public health advice regarding social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, and even respiratory and hand hygiene are not possible to be deployed for more than 35,000 people living in homeless shelters, 24-hour drop ins and day shelters across the country every night without support from government.
The Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of People Experiencing Homelessness (CNH3) has outlined a framework for a local response to prevent an outbreak for people experiencing homelessness. As outlined in COVID-19 Response Framework for People Experiencing Homelessness, the key pillars of a successful practice framework include: testing, sentinel surveillance, health system/shelter system co-ordination, COVID-19 risk stratification, isolation shelters for persons under investigation and providing quarantine and community based care for COVID-19 positive cases.
“If we’re going to flatten the curve of exposure, we must move quickly to support the needs of our local shelters and housing providers who are managing an extremely vulnerable population,” Richter says. “This could make or break the spread of COVID-19 to our neighbours experiencing homelessness and prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed. This gap in support could undo all of the precautions taken so far and lead to a major spike in preventable deaths across Canada.
“We need provincial and local authorities to step in immediately to prevent what could be a catastrophic loss of life among our most vulnerable neighbours.”
- In our interview with 45 communities, only 5% reported that they were preventing and managing COVID-19 in encampments due to lack of staff capacity and focussing on emergency shelters.
- There is a major concern that encampments will increase once positive cases are identified in shelter or when shelters close.
- As outlined in our COVID-19 Response Framework for People Experiencing Homelessness, the key pillars of a successful practice framework include:
- testing, sentinel surveillance;
- health system/shelter system co-ordination;
- COVID-19 risk stratification, isolation shelters for persons under investigation; and,
- cohorting COVID-19+ cases for community-based care.