Since the start of the pandemic, the needs of the unsheltered homeless have not been addressed and have become more dire for many. Municipal and Regional efforts and approaches that were inadequate before have proven to be obsolete and insufficient during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Capacity for essential services that protect human rights and save lives is either non-existent or so under-resourced that they are rendered ineffective. Resources like public buildings with washrooms remain inaccessible, and existing services form an incomplete patchwork of meal programs, drop-ins, and temporary shelter beds. Many of the lock-down measures are for public health, but they put the unsheltered directly in harm’s way.
How are we failing the unsheltered:
- Poor access to washrooms and water for people living in encampments or alone in unsafe locations;
- Existing meal programs are inadequate and not accessible;
- Access to health services and screening is not consistent, and access to masks and sanitizers is inadequate;
- Drop-in programs are few, have barriers and offer limited access to basic needs; and
- The Diversion and Prevention program can add hardship for those at risk of homelessness.
How we can do the right thing now:
- Decriminalize and sanction encampments and provide ready access to food, water, and washrooms as that allows people to shelter in place;
- Immediately adopt and implement a harm reduction-focused, holistic, and judgment-free access to supports across the board;
- Provide 24/7 shelter and housing options for all; and in the meantime provide more drop-in centres that are welcoming and respectful and offer a range services and supports that are essential for the unsheltered population;
- Provide more cooling centres that are welcoming;
- Include people with lived experience in development and delivery of programs and services; and
- Dedicate funding for an integrated response for the unsheltered that connects and strengthens the continuum of supports from community-based to institutional.
Providing services in and of itself is not enough; services must be culturally appropriate, barrier-free, and empowering for those who use them. They must allow people the choice to refuse. Dignity and respect must be the foundation of all service provision, and providing this during and after the pandemic will require a caring community working together.
How we can do better in addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crises:
- Transform shelters into supportive housing with the integration of health and harm reduction in recognition of the overlap between homelessness, disability, and mental illness;
- Defund the police and divert more funding to support services and supports for the unsheltered and development of deeply affordable types of housing;
- Demand from provincial and federal governments to reinvest in robust public housing options;
- Define a robust inclusionary zoning bylaw in the region that also incorporates provisions for accessible units;
- Incentivize property owners to provide space for settlements like A Better Tent City, modular and micro-suits or backyard secondary suites; and
- Make creative partnerships with a variety of housing providers and advocacy/enforcement services to eliminate homelessness and prevent risks for more people becoming homeless.
These crises have gone unresolved for too long. We must act now and plan beyond the horizon of the next election to build our community in a way that ensures justice for generations ahead.
on behalf of the
Unsheltered Campaign Team