Apr. 25, 2020

What's the delay in safe sheltering for the homeless?

What’s taking so long to shelter the province’s homeless population amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

I raised the question in a column here on March 3, suggesting the urgency because we have a powder keg which could explode. I raised the issue more than once with provincial officials until they announced a plan to find vacant facilities in Nanaimo to allow the homeless to social distance. That was the last reference, about two weeks ago, nothing public since. It’s not a question of if but rather a question of when we’ll have an emergency.

That urgency is emphasized by the experience of Boston where health workers testing of 350 residents at one shelter found more than 140 people there had the coronavirus — all of them asymptomatic. Tests at two other Boston shelters found similar rates of asymptomatic infection.

“Initially we didn’t think there was any asymptomatic spread, or maybe a small percentage of people may be spreading it asymptomatically,” said Jim O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless.

Premier John Horgan said on Monday that the provincial government will announce new plans this week to shelter the province’s homeless population amid the pandemic.

Toronto officials are urging Ontario to come up with a co-ordinated plan for shelters after two recent incidents involving regional hospitals and homeless people.

Down the coast, In San Francisco and Los Angeles the virus, like the homeless populations, continues to grow, and initial cases of COVID are now coming out among the homeless.

Health officials already have the warning signs from what is happening in seniors facilities and prisons. Cramped quarters like those don’t allow for distancing, to they become one great steaming cauldron for the virus to be fruitful and multiply. Those same conditions, plus more, apply to those living on the streets or in parks.