By Dr. Stephen Hwang, MAP Director
As a physician and researcher on homelessness, I’m a witness to the intersecting health crises that affect people who don’t have adequate housing. COVID-19 is only one of them. For years, my colleagues and I have treated infections and overdoses, chronic diseases, injuries and mental health issues among people experiencing homelessness. We have been applying Band-Aids, addressing only the most visible symptoms of a continuing crisis.
The pandemic has forced us to confront the consequences of having allowed homelessness to persist in our cities for far too long. Canadians living on low incomes in crowded conditions have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. In Toronto alone, more than 500 people experiencing homelessness have been infected with the coronavirus. As case numbers rise and the colder months move us indoors, adequate shelter is more important than ever.
We have seen rapid action on homelessness over the past six months that would have been previously unthinkable. Municipal and provincial governments, health care and service providers, public-health and community agencies have undertaken extraordinary and costly emergency efforts to prevent COVID-19 from spreading rapidly in shelters and encampments. Empty hotels have been quickly turned into temporary housing. Facilities to allow people to safely self-isolate have been created in a matter of weeks. Cities are committing to build new modular housing for people experiencing homelessness.
And now, in last week’s Throne Speech, the federal government announced a new aspiration – to entirely eliminate chronic homelessness in Canada. We must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move beyond short-term, crisis solutions and make lasting change, meet the needs of our communities and end chronic homelessness in our cities. It’s possible, necessary and the right thing to do.