Homeless in Perilous Times
/ Author: Daniel VanKeeken
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Homeless in Perilous Times

People experiencing homelessness are among those most at risk of infectious diseases such as coronavirus. They need our help now more than ever

By Dan VanKeeken, CLAC Foundation Program Manager

Working from home. Limiting social contact. Going for walks with my wife. Visiting family over Skype or Zoom. Washing my hands a lot. Binge watching TV at night.

None of this is a real hardship compared to what Canada’s estimated 35,000 homeless people are going through on any given day.

How do you self-isolate when “home” is a crowded shelter?

Where do you wash you hands when you’re living in a tent in a park or under a bridge?

According to one nonprofit organization, people experiencing homelessness are among those most at risk of infectious diseases such as coronavirus. At least 40 percent have preexisting health conditions.

With compromised immune systems, limited medical care, and poor nutrition, individuals experiencing homelessness already have a life expectancy 30 to 40 years less than the general population. Research has shown that they may be at greater disadvantage during pandemic outbreaks, are often nutritionally vulnerable, and may have health conditions that put them in medically high-risk populations.

Homelessness can strike the recently unemployed, students who run out of money, or those with mental disabilities, not only those with addictions. COVID-19 poses a new threat to them.

How to respond?

The good news is that hundreds of agencies across the country continue to provide food and shelter, hygiene supplies, and sanitation items to thousands of people in need. These nonprofits are taking precautionary measures just like many businesses are: increasing sanitation and hygiene measures; educating staff and clients on how to recognize COVID-19; implementing safety protocols; offering nonessential services such as employment coaching, advocacy, and counselling via phone and Skype; limiting visitors to buildings; and cancelling public fundraising events, tours, and school groups.

Further good news is that a number of municipal governments across Canada have opened spaces such as recreation, conference, and exhibition buildings—now sitting empty—to allow the homeless more room to sleep at safe distances from each other, receive services, and quarantine any who have tested positive.

My wife and I can safely go through a few weeks or months of social isolation. Our homeless neighbours cannot. They are vulnerable. The organizations helping them are getting stretched, and they need more resources.

We can all help: stay home if you can, work safe if you can’t, and donate to the homeless shelter or nonprofit agency nearest you, including food banks. It will really make a difference.

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