If there is any place in Canada that should have been first off the mark with a COVID-19 plan for homeless people, it is Toronto.

Yet we wait, amidst a multi-year-long homelessness emergency.

Across the country, public health officials have neglected to address homelessness in their daily media messaging.

It is critical that a COVID-19 plan for homelessness is developed. The widespread public health advice to self-isolate is simply not possible in shelters where sleeping areas, washrooms and dining areas are shared, and residents do not have access to their own space and amenities. Furthermore, across the country, shelters are full and outdoor encampments are the norm.

Homeless people often don’t have places to wash their hands, struggle with health problems and crowd together in camps.

Experts say the homeless are more vulnerable because many have underlying health conditions.

A county near Seattle, Washington is bringing in module units where infected homeless people can be isolated and treated.

Ezra holds his little dog Muppet to his chest against the blowing cold.

It’s -20 C in Edmonton on the day he’s decided to visit the abandoned shack where he spent last winter huddled against the elements. Ezra, 42, had been homeless off and on since the late ’90s and struggling with addiction when he stumbled on the tiny building and found it unlocked.

“This was top of the top for a homeless person to have this,” he says. “I had everything. I was out of the elements. I had a thermostat, a plug, some cardboard.”

When the Ford government killed the Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County Basic Income Pilot project in 2018, it offered a number of justifications.

Minister of social services at the time Lisa MacLeod said the pilot was “failing.” She also said it was expensive, and “clearly not the answer for Ontario families.” And she said it was causing people to stop working: “It really is a disincentive to get people back on track.” And, she added, ministry staff were reporting the program wasn’t helping participants become “independent contributors to the economy.”

Observers said at the time they had many questions. What data showed the pilot was failing? How could the government know only a year into the project? And why did Doug Ford’s people say earlier they intended to keep the pilot going and were looking forward to the data generated?

The federal government is touting recent statistics that indicate that the poverty rate in Canada is on a downward spiral, but social justice and anti-poverty groups say the statistics don’t tell the whole story and there is still a lot of work to be done if Canada is going to reduce poverty levels for Indigenous Canadians and those who live in remote areas of the country.

According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s poverty rate has dropped dramatically in recent years, but there are still more than 566,000 children who live below the poverty line in Canada, although that is down from about one million children from five years ago.

According to statistics released on Feb. 24, the overall national poverty rate dropped to 8.7 per cent in 2018 compared to 9.5 per cent in 2017. The number of those living below the poverty line is about 3.2 million

The baloney reading

Listing the tax cut among other measures that contributed directly to reducing poverty doesn’t mean the tax cut reduced poverty. The experts say poverty is down markedly and Liberal policies have been a significant factor, but a tax cut for people making more than $45,000 a year doesn’t deserve the credit.

For these reasons, Justin Trudeau’s statement earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.”

A CBC News analysis reveals that in November 2019, an average of 620 women and children a day were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada. That’s nearly 19,000 times a month, if November was typical.

The true number is likely much higher. Shelter workers in several locations told CBC that in fact numbers are lower in November, because women are reluctant to leave their families as the holiday season nears.

CBC’s data is also incomplete. CBC reporters heard back from just over half the 527 shelters we identified, meaning this figure does not include the people turned away from about 220 shelters.

In more than 80 per cent of cases, people were turned away because the shelter was full.