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Finding somewhere to go during a pandemic

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Finding somewhere to go during a pandemic
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Thomas Desormeaux

Thomas Desormeaux

Thomas Desormeaux is a reporter and writer who lives close to the border of Oakville and Mississauga. He has lived in the GTA for his entire life and is interested in global events, politics and government. follow on twitter @TommyDesormeaux

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People who are homeless or food insecure in Oakville are more likely to contract COVID-19. In order to fight the disease, governments have made it clear that they need to help this vulnerable group of people.

Where do you self-isolate when you have no permanent place to live? How do you eat when your source of food relies on a community that might now be staying home? These are the dilemmas facing Canada’s homeless population during the pandemic.

homeless COVID-19 Oakville

Any response to COVID-19 must include strategies to protect people who are homeless and/or suffer from food insecurity..

The homeless are always at a higher danger of disease. Many of them have chronic health issues and an unreliable source of food. Many homeless people depend on shelters, food banks and the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.

Last Tuesday, Ontario extended its state of emergency for 28 more days. The state of emergency orders the closure of all parks and recreational areas. These are places where homeless people often find shelter during the warmer months.

 

Parks and areas where homeless find shelter are closed during Ontario’s state of Emergency.

Since the beginning of COVID-19 in Canada, there’s been a push to organize more accommodations for homeless and food insecure people. “We cannot crush the curve unless, and until, everyone is looked after,” said Doctor Theresa Tam in a press conference last week. “Not having a home is a significant barrier to following public health advice.”

“If the measure of a society is how it cares for its most vulnerable, then this pandemic has revealed the chink in our armour,” she says.

 

In Halton

Gary O’Neill is the executive director at Oakville’s Kerr Street Mission. He says that the Mission is seeing 20% more clients compared to the same time last year. In the past few weeks, they’ve received a lot of calls from new clients, people who have never used a food bank’s services before and who are looking for guidance on how it works.

food insecure homeless COVID-19

He and his organization have also had to adapt their strategies for helping the community during the pandemic. “We’ve had to change everything we do, a lot of programs are on pause or on hold,” he says. “Our concern is that we usually serve five meals a day. A lot of people that we know who are homeless would usually come then.”

O’Neill says that its true the pandemic has brought some challenges. The Kerr Street Mission has had to change its usual scheduling since the shutdown began. They are now preparing packaged meals that families and individuals can pick up at designated times.

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency, libraries and malls are closed. These are places where the homeless can find temporary refuge during open hours. The restrictions of the pandemic shutdown have made the work that food banks do more challenging. The closure of non-essential businesses has also put some families in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

homeless COVID-19

Kerr Street Mission

A 2018 “Point-in-Time” survey commissioned by the Canadian government found that 271 individuals or families were homeless in Halton Region. Of those in this situation, 20% were homeless because they lost their jobs. 5% were found to be sleeping in public places. The good news is there are a lot of financial programs being offered to the Town of Oakville this spring.

Government Response

Government bodies are taking a variety of tactics to help the homeless and food insecure. Montreal and Toronto have been converting hospitals and hotels into emergency shelters. On February 12, the Halton Regional Council approved a new investment plan for provincial and federal funds they’d been given to deal with homelessness. The Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) and the Reaching Home Program (RHP) provide over ten million dollars for Halton over the next four years.

The new money will go to Halton services that work towards helping people retain their housing and towards homeless youth. In 2018, only 27% of Halton’s homelessness were staying in emergency shelters. Oakville’s one emergency shelter has a maximum capacity of 32 beds. Without the new funding, that may not be enough to deal with higher numbers of homeless during the next few months.

“The government has really stepped up with the subsidies they’ve done,” says O’Neill. “Programs like the CERB [the recently implemented Canadian Emergency Response Benefit] are a fantastic thing. In some cases though, the money hasn’t come through yet.”

Other Solutions

The COVID-19 era has also seen some outpourings of charitable donations. There are a variety of options for volunteering and donations in Oakville right now.

 

 

“Homelessness is interesting, it definitely exists in Oakville,” says Gary O’Neill. “In January and February I got four or five calls from community members, seeing people sleeping in doorway arches. When the weather is warmer, a lot of people come from the city and the shelters are always full.”

O’Neill says that usually Kerr Street’s website gets 10-12 hits in a month. From March to April it received 2,500. If people want to help out, he says there are three main ways to do it.

Donating food to Oakville’s food banks can be very helpful since some are having trouble getting deliveries during the pandemic closures. Some organizations prefer cash donations since that allows them to purchase the food items that are needed most.

An Oakville family (that prefers to remain anonymous) has pledged to match any monthly donation to the Kerr Street Mission, up to a a total of $75,000.

Homeless COVID-19 Oakville

People who want more information about the Oakville’s COVID-19 homeless strategy should consult Service Oakville.

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