With restaurants and libraries closed by official emergency orders, homeless people are left with few places to relieve themselves and — crucially in the COVID-19 era — to wash their hands. Shelters, too, have had to accept fewer people to accommodate physical distancing measures. This has forced thousands of homeless to fend for themselves outdoors, facing increased policing and ticketing amid state-of-emergency measures, as homeless advocacy groups scramble to offer their services in safe (and legal) ways.

In order to flatten the COVID-19 curve, Canadians have been advised to stay home as much as possible and, when going out, to engage in social distancing. That advice is obviously impossible for Toronto’s homeless population to follow, especially those staying in the overcrowded shelter system.

Between April 7 and April 14, according to the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) and the Medical Officer of Health, the number of people living in Toronto shelters with COVID-19 grew from 6 to 30, with a dozen shelter workers also infected. The City said yesterday it has also transferred 176 shelter clients for testing and isolation.

The County of Simcoe held its first virtual council meeting on April 14, using ZOOM – and after a few technical glitches, dealt with issues that included the steps being taken by the county to address the COVID-19 emergency.

County councillors delegated authority to senior staff to disburse a total of $4 million in emergency funding, as the need arises – $2.44 million from the Provincial Social Services Relief Fund, and over $1.6 million in new federal funding, through the Reaching Home program.

About two dozen protesters, spaced far apart to observe the rules of social distancing, converged on Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday, calling on the city to speed up efforts to make shelters for the homeless and refugees safer from the spread of COVID-19.

“People who live and work there are in danger — this is no way to flatten the curve,” said Dr. Michaela Beder, one 313 doctors and nurse practitioners who signed an open letter earlier this week calling on the city to enforce social distancing of two metres in shelters.

Aaron Orkin, an ER doctor and population medicine expert, provides health care services to people experiencing homelessness. As soon as Covid-19 hit, Orkin poured all his resources into emergency restructuring in the shelter system to protect its clients and the city at large. Orkin spoke to Toronto Life about how the pandemic is hitting the homeless population, why the city isn’t doing enough, and how filling Toronto’s empty hotels could solve the problem right now…

Toronto-area transit agencies are experiencing an increase in reports of homeless people frequenting vehicles and stations during the COVID-19 pandemic as regular supports for the region’s vulnerable shut down.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said that despite ridership on the city’s network plunging by 80 per cent since the start of the outbreak, the agency has experienced a higher number of service calls for “vulnerable individuals,” a group he said includes people who are experiencing homelessness or are in mental distress.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the provincial organization, which operates GO Transit, has also noticed “an increase in people seeking shelter in our stations.” GO has seen ridership fall 90 per cent.

At least 30 people using homeless and refugee shelters in Toronto have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Tuesday.

The largest outbreak was reported at Willowdale Welcome Centre, a shelter for refugees in the city’s north end, said the CEO of Homes First Society, the organization that runs the facility.

“I’m worried about our clients, I’m worried about our management team, I’m worried about our staff, they’re quite frightened,” Patricia Mueller said.