Street nurse Cathy Crowe called on Torontonians to let their local councillor know it’s “not OK to threaten and police” people living in encampments.

Crowe, who along with several other supporters recently filed a complaint with Toronto’s Ombudsman about the lack of shelter beds available through the city’s Central Intake system, said people wanting to help should donate tents, tarps, and sleeping bags to organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness, especially those operating in the downtown core.

Rafi Aaron of the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness took a bigger picture approach.

“What you are looking at is a shelter and housing disaster,” said Aaron, who is also the co-chair of the Beth Sholom/Beth Tzedec Out of the Cold program.

“This has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with the failed housing policies of Mayor Tory.”

When the city announced in April it would be reopening an extra shelter space for the homeless, it was expected to fill up fast.

Opening the former Branch on Royal Avenue was meant as a space for homeless people to better isolate during COVID-19. But that hasn’t been the case in Kamloops.

“I’m actually quite surprised because with many of our clients, when they get that extra money, they’re not so quick to spend it,” noted acting executive director of CMHA Kamloops Alfred Achoba. “They try to use as many services as they can, so I’m surprised there’s no huge uptick for shelter.”

… Chuck Lazenby, executive director of the Unity Project, suggested a bigger response. What if we treated poverty like we did the pandemic — as a health issue?

“What if we said this is a public health crisis and we responded in that way?” she said. “We would be in a very different position.”

Lazenby said London has been tireless in helping the vulnerable, especially during the crisis. But they still don’t have livable incomes to pay rent, food and basic needs.

“We cannot continue to try new things without those adequate pieces right at the very bottom,” she said. “Without them we are banging our heads against the wall.”

Ontario Works doesn’t cut it. “How is someone on Ontario Works supposed to find a place for $400 a month? I don’t know,” she said.

Barricades have gone up at CRAB Park, a wall of pallets separating a tent city of the homeless from the road and whatever comes down it.

“The people who have left have moved back to the streets,” Fiona York, an advocate for homeless people, said. “The people here are maintaining a presence. Part of the reason the barricades are here is to provide a place for everyone here. We’re asking for housing for everyone, but also the people are here in recognition that this land is unceded territory.

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The Canada Emergency Response Benefit has helped people with low incomes live better during the COVID-19 pandemic and showed that a guaranteed basic income is achievable, says the manager of the Nourish Project in Peterborough.

The federal government announced Tuesday it will provide eight extra weeks of benefits for people whose jobs or earnings have vanished because of the pandemic, but only if they look for work and take jobs when it’s reasonable to do so.

“It was amazing how the government could react so quickly and really stipulated that you need a minimum of $2,000 a month to be able to meet your basic needs,” said Joelle Favreau, manager of the Nourish Project which aims to help people in need eat more healthy food through local eating, cooking and growing programs.

As Canada starts to slowly recover from the COVID pandemic, housing and poverty experts are worried many cities will see a jump in homelessness.

A recent study conducted by a Columbia University professor estimates that homelessness could grow by as much as 45 per cent in the United States due to a COVID-induced economic downturn. Experts in Canada say there is no guarantee the homeless population will grow as quickly here as it does in the U.S., but they have no doubt it’s going to happen.