In the longer term, food security for all must guarantee an adequate universal basic income, now inadvertently being piloted by the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Public policy now recognizes food is a basic human need and fundamental right: we all need secure incomes if we are to eat and pay the rent. Food handouts are not effective nor sustainable and, if we are all in this together, an affront to human dignity.

Yet universal basic income must not be at the expense of a massive investment in public health and social programs. Non-profits providing meals must be adequately funded, no longer relying on food banks and ad hoc charity. We must bid farewell to government-funded Walmart food banking channelling wasted food to hungry people. Ending food insecurity must be an outcome of successful poverty reduction policies, fair income distribution and progressive taxation.

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.

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.

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.

For the self-employed in Canada’s gig economy, government relief programs with rigid barriers are forcing some tough choices. A childcare provider in Arnprior, Ont., agonized over reopening her shuttered home business to take in children of emergency workers on the frontline at the risk of exposing her family to the virus. In just three days, a Toronto makeup artist saw clients cancel appointments for the rest of the year.

Both face a gut-wrenching choice. If the daycare provider takes in one or two children, or if the makeup artist books a few new jobs, the resulting income still won’t be enough to live on. It will, however, put them at risk of disqualification from the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), the federal aid package intended to shore up lost income during the pandemic.

If you’re homeless like Stanley Woodvine, you know what it’s like to be asked to get up and move on.

A few spots in the city offered some refuge to homeless people, but with a pandemic at hand these precious places are closing one by one.

The McDonald’s Woodvine frequented in his Vancouver neighbourhood of Fairview — “To blog,” he said, “I make much better food” — is closed. So is the washroom at the local Esso. The nearest library has covered up the outdoor outlet where he used to charge his laptop and phone.

West Broadway, a busy office corridor, has slowed to an eerie standstill; though many buildings have shut down, the homeless people who seek shelter in alcoves and under awnings are still ousted by security.