The City of Toronto continues to assist and protect people experiencing homelessness through COVID-19 immunization, an increased focus on infection and prevention control (IPAC) measures in the shelter system, a pilot COVID-19 rapid testing program for new admissions and referring people to safer inside space with supports including meals, laundry, harm reduction and access to a housing worker.
To date, approximately 7,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to people experiencing homelessness and people who are precariously housed, as well as people working in the homelessness and housing sector through on-site clinics in shelters or mobile clinics in the community. A group of Toronto Paramedics supported by the Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine, Toronto Public Health and Toronto Fire Services are attending shelters, drop-ins and encampment sites to immunize people seven days a week. The City also provided additional vaccination opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and frontline staff in the homelessness sector through dedicated centralized walk-in clinics on May 11 and 27, where more than 180 doses were administered.
The City continues to support healthcare partners and the Province of Ontario in rolling out vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness and frontline workers in the homelessness sector. All shelter locations have now had at least one vaccine clinic offered on-site. Local hospitals, Ontario Health Teams, family doctors and community-based health care service providers began vaccinating people experiencing homelessness staying in shelters and respite sites, accessing drop-ins and living in encampments through on-site clinics the week of March 8.
The City is committed to decreasing the risk of outbreaks in the shelter system and continues to provide enhanced supports to ensure immunization and ensure IPAC measures – already established in these settings – are being followed and, where necessary, improved upon. Toronto Public Health has provided recommendations related to cleaning and disinfection and developed training modules that will be available to all shelter staff. The City has also engaged an external IPAC consultant and representatives are visiting sites in the shelter system, providing additional guidance, and will facilitate in-person training and education including on-site environmental services staff starting next week. Each shelter has identified an IPAC lead to coordinate IPAC work and to focus on continuous improvements as needed.
There has been a steady reduction in COVID-19 outbreaks over the last few weeks. As of May 28, there are nine confirmed outbreaks (with 83 associated cases) within the City’s shelter system.
The City is piloting a rapid antigen testing program at priority sites for new admissions, including sites that offer spaces to people living outside and in encampments. Rapid antigen testing, which provides a screening result within fifteen minutes, is another important step the City is taking to support and protect people in the shelter system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who screens positive will have a confirmatory laboratory test and be offered supports and safe isolation space.
There are more than 6,000 shelter spaces in the city today. As of May 28, there is capacity in the shelter system for people staying in encampments who accept offers of safe inside space. From April 2020 to April 2021, 5,518 people experiencing homelessness moved from the shelter system into permanent housing.
The City has referred more than 1,600 people staying in encampments to safe inside space since April 2020 including 187 people so far this month.
Since July 2020, the City’s Streets to Homes and partner agency staff have engaged more than 19,000 times with people living outside, including those staying in encampments – listening to and understanding their needs on a daily basis with care and compassion, and offering them safe inside space with supports and referrals to permanent housing.
Parks Ambassadors visit all parks with encampments to conduct wellness checks and share information about washroom access (Toronto Public Libraries, community centres) showering facilities, vaccine clinic information and more. Parks Ambassadors play an important role at encampments by referring people experiencing homelessness to Streets to Homes staff to help connect them with City services and partner supports. To date in 2021, Parks Ambassadors made 619 referrals to Street to Homes for people experiencing homelessness in parks.
Streets to Homes staff and Parks Ambassadors are not involved in enforcement activities or posting of notices.
Encampments are illegal and are not an indefinite solution to unsheltered homelessness and the health outcomes for people who stay outside are complex and serious. Individuals living in encampments are also at risk of contracting COVID-19. There have been 95 fires in encampments so far this year, including three fires this week (at Lamport Stadium, on Unwin Avenue and under the Gardiner Expressway). Yesterday, Toronto Fire Services cleared 24 propane cylinders and other flammable and combustible materials, including gas cans, at a makeshift encampment near the Don Valley Parkway. In 2020, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments – a 250 per cent increase over the same period in 2019.
City parks must be safe and accessible to all residents of Toronto. The City will enforce bylaws at encampments after exhausting all options available to help people move from encampments to safer, indoor spaces. Space remains available for all those living in encampments in the City’s shelters and its hotel program.
The City has budgeted to spend $663.2 million on homelessness services and housing supports in 2021, almost double the amount it spent in 2019 at $365.8 million.
Through the City’s continued efforts to immunize people experiencing homelessness, ensure and enhance IPAC measures in the shelter system and work with those living in encampments, the City wants people experiencing homelessness to feel comfortable accepting offers of safe inside space with supports and referrals to permanent housing.
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