There are now 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among clients in the city's shelter system
In an open letter addressed to Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford, among others, over 300 physicians and nurse practitioners in Toronto are demanding changes to conditions in the shelter system in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the past month, advocates have been calling for more shelter spaces to ease overcrowding and encourage physical distancing.
With the closure of libraries, food banks and day programs, people experiencing homelessness have also lost of many of the valuable services they rely on.
There are now 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among clients of the city’s shelter system.
In the letter, which was published on Monday, the health-care workers are demanding COVID-19 outreach testing and sentinel surveillance for all shelters, respites, drop-ins and boarding homes and that local public health agencies issue an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act requiring those sites to ensure that there is physical distancing of at least six feet between clients.
The letter also insists that over 7,000 hotel rooms, housing units and student residences be made available with sufficient staffing and onsite supports so that people can immediately and voluntarily be moved.
The 313 doctors and nurses who signed the letter work in acute care hospitals and community settings, including boarding homes and shelters, and directly with people experiencing homelessness and precarious housing.
“We are seeing first-hand the extreme toll that COVID-19 is taking on people who are the most marginalized,” the letter reads. “People experiencing homelessness are at much higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease due to baseline higher rates of chronic medical conditions. Unless there is ongoing rapid action, we will see preventable deaths and outbreaks with broad public health implications during this pandemic.”
Along with Tory and Ford, the letter was also addressed to Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city’s medical officer of health Joe Cressy, the chair of the Board of Health Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of the shelter, support and housing administration Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health Tess Romain, CEO of the Toronto Central LHIN and Rose Cook, the director of clinical portfolio at Ontario Health.
In late March, nine new shelters were opened across Toronto in recreation centres and motels, creating 350 new spaces to allow for physical distancing.
The city is also building a 24-hour recovery facility with space for 400 homeless people, though the process has been delayed due to funding, gathering of resources, and finding the appropriate location.