Providing outreach support to people experiencing homelessness is particularly difficult — yet crucial — during the coronavirus pandemic, according to medical professionals.
“Rather than waiting for people experiencing homelessness to come into the mainstream system, we need to provide care where people are, which means providing outreach care,” Dr. Stephen Hwang told the Toronto Observer.
Hwang, a professor with the University of Toronto’s department of medicine who specializes in marginalized urban populations, spoke with the Observer about strategies to help the homeless during the pandemic.
“That model is obviously more difficult to do under the current circumstances with the outbreak,” he said.
That’s not stopping some organizations from trying, including Newmarket’s Inn From the Cold. Located at 510 Penrose St., it hosts in-house meal services for the community’s less fortunate and provide shelter during the winter season.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Inn from the Cold is accommodating returning guests. They must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the facility.
“Effective immediately we will be restricting entry into the shelter to clients experiencing homelessness and staff only,” the organization recently said on its website.
Inn from the Cold usually hosts upwards of 300 people on Fridays each week, and has been doing so since 2004. It was launched in response to an overflow of homeless citizens stuck sleeping in sub-zero temperatures.
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Anthony Fontaine, 33, has worked with multiple community organizations, and now hosts a meal at Inn From the Cold.
“It was amazing to see the different kinds of faces there, it’s like they come from all walks of life. And this problem is a problem everywhere you go, and it’s nice to meet new people and help them out,” Fontaine told the Toronto Observer after a meal service on March 10.
That night, Fontaine and co-volunteers served a hearty meal of mashed potatoes, roast pork, bread with butter, and tomato soup. By the end of the service, it was all gone.
‘These are good people’
While the Inn specializes in meals and shelter, its members provide other services, such as help refer guests to jobs and filing applications.
Service members are still available over the phone, and can get into contact with guests regarding additional services amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I come here because these are good people and I know that if I ever run into a problem in my life or want to get better, they will always try to support me, and I know that if I keep seeing these people, more good things will happen,” said Alex, a younger guest at the Inn who asked only his first name be used to protect his privacy.
Alex started attending meal sessions with the Inn while in his late teens, and has recently received a job interview with No Frills through a recommendation through the Inn.
Service members and volunteers with the Inn take a great risk by providing services amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. However, by remaining open they are able to satisfy the conditions for outreach which Hwang stated was crucial to combating homelessness.
“In general, saying that many people are just one paycheck away from being homeless is actually truer than many people realize, and I think they’re going to realize that this is a problem that affects all of us.” Hwang said.