As communities rush to protect homeless people from a global pandemic, they are putting in place critical emergency responses. Shelters and hotels can provide a measure of short-term protection, but they are all at best a stop-gap measure. People experiencing homelessness are at dramatically elevated risk from COVID-19 because they have no home to stay in. In this blog, Amanda DiFalco urges communities to use this crisis to accelerate efforts to end homelessness.
By Amanda DiFalco
Built for Zero Canada
Over the last few weeks Canadian communities moved quickly into action to protect people experiencing homelessness against COVID-19. It reminds me of how grateful I am to be part of a sector full of dedicated and compassionate workers across the country.
The emergency measures put in place to respond to COVID-19 (like additional shelters and hotels) are necessary steps, but they are at best stopgaps. The best protection we can give people experiencing homelessness against COVID-19 is a home.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, many communities were successfully preventing and reducing homelessness through practices that worked alongside the most vulnerable people to facilitate and accelerate access to permanent housing and individualized supports to maintain it. Now more than ever our focus should be on housing.
‘The pandemic changes our approach, not our mission’
There’s never been a more important time to revisit and root ourselves in our values to keep us grounded. These are values for ending homelessness: We believe ending homelessness is possible, we believe in the right to housing, we are solely and resolutely focussed on our mission to ending homelessness, we act in service to all Canadians at risk of or experiencing homelessness, we have a bias for action, we fail forward, and we believe that there is hope and opportunity.
The pandemic changes our approach, not our mission. How we end homelessness in our new reality requires innovation, adaptation and dedicated resources. Given the circumstances it’s easy to identify the constraints in the work to end homelessness. We may encounter staffing pressures, adopting new practices, limited resources and less access to housing stock.
While there’s no doubt the scale of the pressures has increased dramatically, people in this line of work are dealers in hope and accustomed to breaking down barriers in the relentless pursuit to end homelessness. Do you ever wish you could end homelessness faster and more efficiently? There’s never been a better time to achieve it and here’s why: when a crisis strikes, policies and processes become increasingly flexible, government funding increases, and people get laser focussed. The distractions and noise fade into the background. It’s usually the “noise” that makes our work harder.
Crisis = Opportunity. Breaking through barriers to get people housed.
Emergency shelter plays a vital role in our response to COVID-19, however when increasing shelter capacity, we need to increase our housing responses at the same time, otherwise it becomes a place for people to get sicker with nowhere to go. We’ve learned this lesson the hard way once before, let’s avoid repeating it again by being relentless in our housing focus.
How can we turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to house more people?
This is not business as usual so free yourselves from the usual constraints as much as possible. Look into your Coordinated Access system and your housing based-intervention processes and find ways to remove or bypass steps, recruit or re-deploy staff from non-essential services, re-allocate funding resources, use technology more.
Move from general barriers to very specific ones by asking what’s different today. For example, every community has worked with very limited housing stock. What’s different about that now? Is it harder to find units, view units, contact landlords? Pinpoint how the challenge is different and test new ideas to solve it. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Identify what you need to fix it and ask for what you need. A previous no may now be a yes. Once people are set up temporarily, think about how to keep people safe for the long term. How can you use new federal and provincial funding to get people into housing, or keep them from falling into homelessness? While we’ve all known the solution to homelessness is permanent housing, so too is it the solution to keeping everyone alive during COVID-19. In order to stay home, you need to have one.
This pandemic has created some very real challenges to our sector. It also creates some great opportunities to accelerate progress on ending homelessness and to give people the best possible protection from COVID19 – a home.