Supporting Clients through Winter and COVID-19
Supporting Clients through Winter and COVID-19
On February 9th and 11th, 2021, housing professionals from across Toronto gathered in a series of Community Conversations to collectively discuss the needs of clients facing housing precarity/inadequacy, the challenges faced in the housing sector during a COVID-19 winter, and the resources available for supporting clients through winter months.
Together, housing professionals shared services available at their own agencies, discussed shifts and changes to service provision, and identified strategies and approaches to facing the challenges of this winter. By identifying the needs of clients and the gaps that exist in services that meet those needs, participants engaged in an effort to share strategies and ideas for support.
The conversations identified the consistent and ongoing needs that communities faced with housing precarity/inadequacy or experiencing homelessness share. Participants identified that folks without housing security were in particular need of:
- Housing Help Services
- Financial Supports
- Food provision, including free or low-cost hot meals and hot beverages
- Access to bathrooms with hot water
- Access to showers
- Access to internet and the devices required to connect online
- Access to telephone services
- Transportation access, including transit tokens, rides, and pre-paid presto passes
- Shelter beds
- Mental health supports
- Warm clothing, socks, blankets
- Clean water
- More warming locations for extreme cold weather
- More supports for encampments, and reduced policing in encampments
- Readily available harm reduction supplies
Participants discussed the challenges that are shared across the sector by folks accessing services, and by service providers themselves. The most common challenges identified were:
- Self-care and secondary trauma for service providers
- Service providers are stretched thin and it is challenging to prioritize their own mental health and well-being.
- Service providers are simultaneously experiencing the collective trauma of this pandemic and feeling called to increase supports offered, to the detriment of their own mental health.
- Discrimination and stigmatization
- Private market landlords still uphold discriminatory practices housing folks who are marginalized.
- Some housed residents in areas where temporary shelter have been created either by the City (in the case of Roehampton) or by the community itself (in the case of encampments) have made complaints that have resulted in dislocation by unhoused residents.
- Housing market remains unaffordable
- People are struggling to find housing, or struggling to maintain the housing they have found. Employment losses and limited access to viable employment, combined with limitations of income supports, have made evictions consistent and threatening to housing stability for many community members.
- Tech accessibility
- Access to devices is necessary for surviving a COVID-19 winter, but cost is a barrier to obtaining devices for those in need, and a barrier for providing devices for service providers. Increased funding to provide organizations with devices to give to service users is needed.
- Many services are offered online, and the internet remains an expensive and private offering. Locations with wifi access (like libraries, Tim Horton’s, McDonalds, etc) are closed, so communities have no way of accessing the internet
- Mental Health
- Critical mental health issues persist, but free mental health services remain limited, and some services remain closed due to the pandemic (some detox centers and drop-in mental health supports)
- Online resources are available, but rely on access to tech and internet, which many unhoused or precariously/inadequately housed community members do not have
- Physical health
- Many clients do not have a regular physician for maintaining physical health, and can only access emergency services. Many clinics are limiting appointments to emergencies.
- Shelter capacity and safety
- There are not enough beds in the shelter system to provide safe indoor spaces to unhoused residents of Toronto.
- Shelters are difficult to social distance in, and COVID outbreaks in the shelter system cause uncertainty and risk. Many community members would prefer to live in encampments where they are able to have isolated, socially distanced, and private dwellings in tents or temporary structures.
- Shelters and hotel beds have had restrictions that have proved challenging for service users, and many unhoused people with pets have reported challenges and issues with keeping their pets, preferring encampment residency.
- Encampment supports are limited, and encampments remain a violation of city bylaws
- Limited indoor spaces are consistently full, access to indoor spaces (libraries; Tim Horton’s; McDonalds) is closed; face-to-face supports is high risk and so reduced; encampments continue to be cleared.
- Service reduction
- Drop-ins are limited to unhoused service users, creating a gap in access for folks who are housed but rely on drop-in services for meals, socializing, and computer/tech access.
- Face-to-face services are reduced, limiting ability of service providers to build rapport and trust with service users.
- Food provision services saw an increased level of donations at the beginning of the pandemic, but the donations have tapered and it is challenging to continue to provide hot meals during the winter months
- Volunteer support decreased
- With COVID restrictions and ongoing emergency measures, programs that have relied on volunteer supports have not been able to keep up with demand due to capacity constraints of the lack of volunteers.
- Warming locations are limited
- There are only four warming locations in the city
- There is transportation between the warming centres, but there are no other pickup locations for residents seeking warming spot during extreme cold weather
The participants also shared expert insight into some strategies that could be helpful for community members experiencing homelessness, or who are inadequately housed:
- Government supports and government relations
- The province, City, and federal governments need to work more closely together to ensure affordable housing options.
- More coops need to be built by the Federal Government.
- The City could rent condos where vacancy rates have risen during the pandemic.
- Income supports are not enough, and now some clients are facing punitive measures against accessing CERB while on social supports
- Supports are offered online, but there is not enough effort to provide the tech required to access them.
Identified Services and Supports:
|Services and Opportunities for Supports
|Hope + Me
|Scarborough Housing Stabilization Planning Network (SHSPN)
|Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities
|Street Health at Dundas and Sherbourne
|Inner City Health Associates
|Toronto Public Libraries
|Native Child and Family Services
|Toronto Drop-In Network
|Bounce Back Ontario
|Requires a computer. Provides regularly updated services available near you through map, including:
|Native Women’s Resource Centre
|Good Sheppard Ministry
|Madison Community Services
|Red Door Shelter
|Connected for Success Program:
|Telus Social Impact Program
|RC Tech Outreach
|Free Geek Toronto
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