NW Week

Thursday, February 22, 2024

In Toronto’s homeless shelter system, there have been 50 outbreaks of COVID-19

There have been 50 COVID-19 outbreaks in Toronto's homeless shelter system

Key takeaways:

  • As the weather cools, advocates say, homeless people in Toronto must decide whether to stay outside and freeze or go inside and risk contracting COVID-19.
  • This number has risen from 48 outbreaks just a few days ago, as the pandemic adds to the many other challenges that homeless people face.
  • A COVID-19 outbreak has put a strain on the shelter system, as well as ambulances, public transportation, and hospitals.

According to advocates, as the weather cools, homeless people in Toronto face a difficult choice: stay outside and freeze or go inside and risk contracting COVID-19.

Outside, wind chills were near -30 degrees Celsius, prompting the City of Toronto to issue an Extreme Cold Weather Alert.

Inside, however, city figures depict a new threat: the Omicron variant speeding through shelters. As of Friday, there were 401 COVID-19 cases in those outbreaks, with one death, across the shelter system, accounting for more than half of all shelters.

As the pandemic adds to the many other challenges that homeless people face, this number has risen from 48 outbreaks just a few days ago. One advocate said the situation was predictable and that the city’s shelter system might have been more effective.

Also read: According to experts, the Vancouver storm has harmed climate change

“We were aware that COVID-19 was on its way. We were well aware that winter was approaching. “It’s not like any of this should have come as a surprise,” said Lorraine Lam, a Sanctuary Toronto outreach worker.

In a statement, the city of Toronto stated it had opened 26 temporary sites, four warming centers, and two respite centers. It claims to be using more than 440 HEPA filters and is on track to offer further than 310,000 N95 masks to users — enough for two weeks.

A surge of COVID-19 has put a strain on the shelter system and ambulances, public transportation, and hospitals themselves.

Project Winter Survival, run by Engage and Change, delivered 3000 survival kits to those in need on Saturday.

Hand warmers, sleeping bags, as well as other items designed to help people deal with an extreme cold are included in the kits.

“The harsh elements make it much more difficult for the people out there who don’t have homes and yet are suffering,” said Staff Sgt. John Stockfish, a Toronto Police officer who is donating his time to help load the 3000 bags into cars delivered to more than 200 agencies.

Project Winter Survival has already been going on for over two decades, although its organizers wish it hadn’t.

There have been 50 COVID-19 outbreaks in Toronto's homeless shelter system
There have been 50 COVID-19 outbreaks in Toronto’s homeless shelter system. Image from CBC

“I say this every year.” This is something we don’t want to do. Long-term housing and supportive services are the answer. “However, we will remain here as long as there is a problem,” organizer Jody Steinhauer said.

According to Steinhauer, Toronto has more than 10,000 homeless people. The last homeless count, completed before the pandemic, counted roughly 7300 people living inside as well as outside of support services — but as of earlier this week, about 7400 people are sleeping in the system.

The increase is likely due to many people who live outside opting to stay warm rather than face the cold, but Tracy Murdoch of Woodgreen Community Services said she sees a rise across the board.

“This is the highest rate of homelessness I’ve seen since the 1980s.” People are abusing the system. She stated, “People are dying.”

Scott Mills, a former Toronto police officer who now works as an advocate for Invisible People, wants people to change their minds about homelessness and find compassion this winter.

“What can we do?” says the narrator. Make a small effort. Say hello to anyone homeless on the street. He said, “Give them some hope.”

Source: CTV News

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