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7 Reasons the Homeless Need Your Help to Survive COVID-19

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were already in the midst of a homelessness crisis. In Toronto, there are over 10,000 people who don’t have a place to call home on any given night. What the current viral outbreak has effectively done is highlight just how precarious the lives of homeless people really are.

While you can say that the pandemic has hit everyone across the globe very hard, people who are experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable – not only to the infection and spread of the virus, but also to the negative repercussions of the outbreak.

Keep reading to learn why homeless people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 – and what you can do to help them.

Homeless person sitting on the street

No Place to Self-Isolate

Self-isolation is recommended as one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But for people experiencing homelessness, there is no option to stay at home.

Toronto’s shelter system has been running at capacity for years now, and there is an urgent need for deeply affordable housing.

The reality is the risk of exposure is heightened in places like homeless shelters and respites. But we understand how critical these services are for people in need. Fred Victor continues to implement diligent COVID-19 screening and monitoring across all of its programs and locations – while remaining deeply committed to providing shelter and support for people who are homeless.

Since last year, the City of Toronto has opened several new shelters to create additional physical distancing in 24-hour respites and 24-hour drop-in programs. They also opened a self-isolation site for people who have travelled, and a dedicated site for homeless people who are awaiting COVID-19 test results.

A site has also been secured and prepped for clients who have tested positive for COVID-19 – with onsite medical supports.

No Access to Facilities

When you are homeless, you have limited access to clean facilities and don’t have the ability to wash your hands numerous times a day.

The universal precautions (e.g. handwashing and hand-sanitizing) used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are not readily and openly available to homeless people. On top of that, places that might have restrooms that are open to the public – like libraries and coffee shops – have been closed due to the pandemic.

Financial Instability and Poverty

The economic impact of the pandemic means that those who are living in poverty face additional challenges. People living on the edge will undeniably face mounting stress as the income they once relied on disappears – as many businesses come to a halt by the order of the government.  

Furthermore, people who are living on little to no income don’t have the disposable dollars to stockpile food and other necessities. That, in turn, means that they might have to forgo meals or put themselves at risk more often to get their hands on these essentials.

A homeless woman sleeping outdoors

Lack of Food

Hunger and a poor diet often go hand-in-hand with living on the street. Ultimately, that means people who are homeless end up not getting the vitamins and good nutrition their bodies need to fight off potential illness.

In an effort to keep providing the warm meals that help nourish people who are homeless, Fred Victor’s Food Services at 145 Queen St. E. and 40 Oak Street continue to serve meals by take-out only.

Underlying Medical Conditions

People who are homeless are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because many have underlying medical conditions and compromised immune systems to begin with. These health problems are often caused by exposure to the elements from living on the street, and are exacerbated by a lack of access to professional medical care.

Symptoms of COVID-19 may be mild for many, but it can be devastating for those with pre-existing health concerns.

Limited Access to Information

While many people are grappling with the information overload that has resulted as we try to process this pandemic, people who are homeless or living in poverty may be disconnected and living “off the grid” with minimal access to updates about the virus. This poses a serious risk, as they may be unaware of the recommended ways to stay safe during the pandemic.

In addition, as many offices close their doors to in-person appointments, people who don’t have computers, smartphones, or internet access will have no way to connect to online supports or apply for certain government benefits. With libraries and employment offices closed as well, there is no place to use a computer for free.

And although there are some homeless people who do have a smartphone and can go online – there is still a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 out there. Fred Victor staff have been engaging clients and community members so that the people who come through our doors have up-to-date information about COVID-19 – including what symptoms to watch out for and what to do if they start to exhibit symptoms; how to prepare for potential self-isolation; and effective handwashing and hygiene practices.

Homeless person sitting on the street and begging for money

No Support Network

Many of us have friends or family we can call on in an emergency. They might provide us with financial support, or food, or are simply there for us if we need someone to talk to.

People who are experiencing homelessness need the same thing. They need a support system. Many homeless people are already struggling with social isolation as it is – but the extent to which COVID-19 has distanced people within society has the potential of taking a huge toll on their well-being.

The COVID-19 outbreak affects every member of our community, either directly or indirectly, and we must all work together to stop the spread. That said, people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto need you now more than ever.

In the past few weeks, you’ve had the opportunity to help out your community by staying home. Now, it’s time to help out your community by supporting those who don’t have one. Here’s how you can help:

Donate Food and Items

We can use donations of non-perishable food, liquid hand soap, hand sanitizers, pleated surgical masks and disinfectant wipes.

Read our Food & Supplies Donation page to see what we can accept and where to drop it off.

Donate Money

Monetary donations allow us to buy exactly what we need on short notice. We buy things in bulk so they are at a lower price than retail stores.

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