Date Issued: July 30, 2020

COVID-19 Update: Support for Clients Using Substances

Dear Shelter Providers,

Over the course of the last six months we have all been stretched in ways previously not thought possible. I can speak for myself in that I have never managed or worked through something so complex, anxiety provoking and at times frightening.

We have together managed to see our way through the first wave of this pandemic. Other than a few people recovering at our isolation hotel, I am so happy to tell you that as of today we have no active outbreaks / cases of COVID-19 in Toronto’s shelter system.

Our ability to move more than 3,000 people to new accommodations including permanent housing while being vigilant about our IPAC practices and interventions to test and isolate people in need speaks to the passion, skills and commitment of all staff and our partners in the community sector.

I am so proud to be part of a team that looks for opportunities to do more in times of stress while at the same time taking care of each other in the process.

While it is important for all of us to take a deep breath, reflect and hopefully get some downtime with loved ones and friends, I ask that we all continue to remain vigilant in our practices, screening and adherence to TPH guidance around COVID-19.

I also am writing to you today to ask for your help in continuing our work to support people that use drugs and experience homelessness. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic in some cases, the ongoing Opioid Overdose Crisis continues to rage on across the City and throughout services for people experiencing homelessness. The past few weeks have been especially heart breaking as we have seen too many people succumb to overdose in the shelter system including several at the new hotel programs we are operating.

I ask that all staff review and update themselves on our harm reduction policies and procedures. A core component of a harm reduction approach asks that we provide non-judgmental and compassionate support and information to people who use drugs. Not being approachable or being judgmental could literally make the difference between life and death in some circumstances.

Please ensure signage is evident in your shelter indicating that naloxone and harm reduction supplies are available and how to access them. At this time no one should be service restricted solely on the basis of using drugs in our shelters. When these circumstances happen it is an opportunity to engage in dialogue, share information on resources and offer support.

We have a team working closely with Toronto Public Health to find ways to increase the level of support for people who use drugs and access our programs. I hope to share more information on that with you soon.

Once again, I want to thank you all for your continued dedication to our clients, our team and this City.

Gord Tanner
Director, Homelessness Intervention & Prevention Services.

Please ensure that this Bulletin is cascaded to all relevant staff as soon as possible, and a hard copy of this document posted in a conspicuous place for ongoing reference.