The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a feature of our modern economy: the essential workers in our society are the lowest paid and have the least job security. Grocery store and pharmacy cashiers, personal service workers and nursing home caregivers were all required to keep working through the initial fear and unknown of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Silently and imperceptibly our economy has shifted from an environment where these workers and other low wage jobs shifted from permanent jobs with benefits to precarious part-time work with no benefits. Even if the hourly wage is above the minimum wage, with part-time hours the result can still mean living below the poverty line.

We share three observations from the early success of the COVID recovery site program to inform broader conversations regarding the long-term housing needs of the more than 7,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.

1. Large scale solutions to housing are possible
2. Support all forms of care
3. Keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the horizon

The effects of COVID-19 could continue far into next year for some of north Durham’s most vulnerable populations.

Area organizations working to address housing insecurity are dealing with an increase in unsheltered clients and a looming tidal wave of rental arrears and evictions.

“We have seen an increase in unsheltered people in the north for sure,” said Jessica Robinson, program manager for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI), which assists people to secure and maintain housing.

Pre-pandemic, Robinson said the program, which is run by Community Living Durham North and serves residents of all three northern municipalities, generally saw about one unsheltered person coming in per week, but since the onset of quarantine measures, they have averaged up to three intakes weekly.

A six-month national basic income program identical in design to a pilot project once offered in Ontario would cost at least $47.5 billion, according to a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased calls for a guaranteed minimum income program, which proponents say would protect lower-income Canadians from financial challenges both during and after the crisis.

The amounts would be equal to up to 75 per cent of the low-income measure, calculated as half of median household income. In 2020, it is equal to $24,439 for individuals and $34,562 for couples.

Homelessness advocates are taking the City of Toronto back to court, to enforce the City’s compliance with its commitments regarding shelter conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic…

On 15 May 2020, in response to a lawsuit filed by the coalition in late April, the City entered into an Interim Settlement Agreement. This settlement applies to all shelters, respites, drop-ins and COVID-19 homelessness response hotel rooms that are operated or funded by the City of Toronto. Under the terms of this agreement, the City agreed to certain enforceable commitments about conditions in the shelter system.

“Despite the City’s claims of compliance, the City’s Central Intake line continues on a daily basis to turn away individuals who are entitled to a shelter bed under the Settlement Agreement. This is not an occasional or unusual occurrence. Hundreds of people remain in encampments or are still sleeping rough due to difficulty finding shelter spaces, and the City’s own data shows that the capacity of the shelter system has declined substantially since the start of the COVID-19 crisis” said Jessica Orkin, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners representing the coalition.

The Town of Goderich is sounding the alarm on a growing homelessness crisis in rural areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials say between eight and 11 people are sleeping rough in the town of 8,000, and another 21 people are being provided with temporary shelter.

“Since COVID, it’s now turned into a bit of a crisis and a real tragedy,” said Goderich Mayor John Grace. “For a small, rural community that has never dealt with this, it’s a big problem.”

Encampments popped up in area parks, like Maitland Woods, making the issue more visible to residents for the first time.

“Rural Ontario is not immune anymore to big-city issues,” Grace said. “We have homeless people here, we have people in dire straits and poverty — we have it.”

For a moment this spring it seemed as if the COVID-19 crisis might lead governments to ease the relentless cycle of displacement of homeless people from the parks, streets, ravines and underpasses of Canadian cities. Some made efforts to secure housing where homeless people could follow COVID-19 guidelines. Others, including in Edmonton, Toronto, and Victoria announced suspensions of evictions of some homeless camps during the emergency.

But the respite was short-lived. Edmonton and Toronto resumed clearances in May. British Columbia cleared Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and the Topaz and Pandora camps in Victoria. Other camps were cleared from Winnipeg to Barrie, Ontario.