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

“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.”

Up to 110 homeless residents will be temporarily housed at Edmonton’s Coliseum Inn as housing support agencies grapple with shelter capacity levels amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 98-unit hotel in the Northlands area was leased by Homeward Trust and Boyle Street Community Services Monday. In addition to providing homeless Edmontonians shelter and support, the agencies will aim to find each person a permanent residence within 21 days.

Last month, at remarkable speed, national politicians from all parties set aside their usual partisan dynamics to introduce the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in response to the coronavirus-generated economic crisis. The federal government, Parliament and officials involved deserve great credit, and while the CERB currently does not provide benefits to all Canadians, the program is still evolving.

COVID-19 has forced federal and provincial governments to see the limitations of our current income-security framework. Employment insurance (EI) has been revealed as a creaky relic of a bygone economy. Forty per cent of unemployed Canadians are ineligible for EI. Today’s freelance and gig workers, who piece together part-time jobs and short-term contracts, were the first to feel the effects of the shutdown, unable to qualify for EI or receiving too little to survive. The CERB is both more inclusive and generous.

Poverty kills.

This grisly fact has been true for much longer than COVID-19 has been around. Statistics Canada concluded in 2014 that income inequality is associated with the premature deaths of 40,000 Canadians a year. That’s equal to 110 Canadians dying prematurely each day. Imagine if that was the statistic being broadcast via government briefings every afternoon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tumultuous time for both the health and wealth of all Manitobans.

However, Premier Brian Pallister’s and Mayor Brian Bowman’s dangerous plans to reduce non-essential government spending during this pandemic — such as laying off workers or reducing government pay to just two days a week — will badly damage our economy.

The 2008 financial crisis showed that a better plan is to increase spending during this pandemic.

People often falsely use the analogy of a province or country being akin to a family — if a family has less income, then it should cut back on its expenses. However, a province is not a family — every dollar that the province saves is a dollar (or more) that someone else in the province will not earn.

In economics, this is called the paradox of thrift. If everyone in the Manitoban economy cuts back spending, then everyone’s income will fall — and as everyone’s incomes fall, spending will once again fall, triggering a vicious cycle. Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel laureate in economics, noted these exact same problems with austerity following the financial crisis.

A Calgary hotel that has been transformed into a COVID-19 isolation site for people with no fixed address is about one-tenth full more than a week after it opened.

People are gradually being transferred from shelters and hospitals to the hotel, where 100 rooms spread over four floors have been set aside for the assisted isolation site that opened April 6.

“The site is coming along very rapidly and ,given the quick pace that we’ve moved, it’s pretty incredible what we’ve managed to achieve,” said Dr. Kerri Treherne, the medical lead on the project, said Wednesday.

There’s never been a more important time to revisit and root ourselves in our values to keep us grounded. These are values for ending homelessness: We believe ending homelessness is possible, we believe in the right to housing, we are solely and resolutely focussed on our mission to ending homelessness, we act in service to all Canadians at risk of or experiencing homelessness, we have a bias for action, we fail forward, and we believe that there is hope and opportunity.

The pandemic changes our approach, not our mission. How we end homelessness in our new reality requires innovation, adaptation and dedicated resources. Given the circumstances it’s easy to identify the constraints in the work to end homelessness. We may encounter staffing pressures, adopting new practices, limited resources and less access to housing stock.