April 20th, 2020

Without immediate moves to provide for self-isolation, shelters will become the next epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic

NDP and expert Dr. Stephen Hwang call for immediate testing and housing for people experiencing homelessness

TORONTO — Without immediate action, the Ontario NDP critic for Poverty and Homelessness Rima Berns-McGown, and physicians and University of Toronto Professor, Dr. Stephen Hwang, believe COVID-19 will spread through the homeless population like wildfire with devastating consequences.

“The prevalence of pre-existing health conditions, shared washroom facilities and the impossibility of physical distancing in the shelter systems all add up to an impending disaster for people experiencing homelessness," said Hwang, a professor and physician for people experiencing homelessness for over 20 years. "We've seen large outbreaks of COVID-19 in shelters systems in other jurisdictions. We need all levels of government to move immediately to provide housing and widespread access to testing to avert an impending disaster here."

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and Berns-McGown have written to Doug Ford, asking for isolation and protection measures to be stepped up.

“Shelters were crowded at crisis levels before the pandemic began — it’s impossible to practice physical distancing there,” said Berns-McGown. “If we don’t step up protections and put in place a much stronger plan, we’re going to see preventable deaths, and new infections spread like wildfire. It's a simple truth: housing will save lives and stop a potential second wave."

In their letter to Ford, Horwath and Berns-McGown push for the use of single hotel, motel or dorm rooms to isolate as many people as possible until Public Health officials determine it’s safe to loosen physical distancing measures. They have also urged the government to move forward quickly with existing plans for a 400-bed COVID-19 recovery site for the homeless here in Toronto.

“The government has been warned by experts that this is coming. Every Ontarian’s life is precious. It’s time we act with urgency to save the lives of those experiencing homelessness in this province," said Berns-McGown.