Edmonton’s homeless shelter system is scrambling to find space now that Kinsmen Sports Centre has reverted back to recreational use, clearing out the 180 overnight beds set up early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary overnight shelter has been running out of Kinsmen since late-March.

With rec centres allowed to reopen as part of the province’s stage two relaunch, The Mustard Seed pulled the beds out of Kinsmen on Monday morning, relocating to a church just off Whyte Avenue. But there’s only room for 50 beds there.

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

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.

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.

Back in April, U of T Scarborough sociology professor Joseph Hermer observed a trend that is now playing out on Toronto’s streets: how the spread of COVID-19 would impact the homeless, and the way that they are policed in public spaces.

Several worrying factors impacted their susceptibility: an inadequate shelter system, where social distancing has been a challenge, their increased likelihood to suffer from underlying health conditions, and the policing of the homeless, where many of the normal activities that this population undertake to stay alive are criminalized across Canada.

“Visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples are vastly over-represented in the homeless population,” explains Hermer. “Homelessness is a very visible expression of profound inequality and prejudice.”

The mayor of Sarnia thinks it’s time to take another look at a guaranteed annual income, this time on a national scale.

Ontario had previously experimented with the Basic Income Pilot program, but later cancelled it.

Now, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) already running, the time has come to look at doing it on a national scale and not just for a time of crisis such as the current pandemic.

“I do think if you look at the fact you [don’t] want to leave a segment of society just dog paddling in life and getting no place, and no ability to get to a better place —then it’s worth trying on specific targeted groups to see if it works,” he said.

During this COVID 19 Pandemic, Justin Trudeau should seize this moment and take an initiative to implement new socially progressive programs, like a universal basic income and a national pharmacare program. Our country needs a Franklin Delano Roosevelt “New Deal” Approach to some of our country’s socioeconomic ills! Out of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945) came Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, and in Canada’s case, Family Allowance (or the “Baby Bonus”). Many of our European allies implemented universal public medicare (including pharmacare) systems in their respective countries long before Canada did. Now, hard times call for desperate measures!