A curious thing happened to Ottawa’s homeless population during this year’s COVID-19 pandemic: They became healthier.

Every spring, the city’s downtown shelters experience an outbreak of seasonal flu, colds and gastrointestinal illnesses that make lives miserable. The wave of illness has been as predictable as the ice disappearing from the Ottawa River.

But this year, it didn’t happen.

“We’ve had no gastro since Covid hit,” says Wendy Muckle, executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health. “There’s no colds, there’s no flu. We can’t even find people to test (for COVID-19) right now because everybody is healthy.”

Did you know, in Canada almost half of the homeless population is female. So before this pandemic was even on our radar, there was a homeless crisis in Canada. In Niagara, we’re facing similar homelessness issues. According to the Niagara Region, more than 300 people are homeless each night, with 125 staying in emergency shelters and 134 staying in temporary or transitional housing. Last year, YWCA Niagara Region served more than 500 women and 230 children, either providing emergency shelter or transitional housing support. Organizations like the YWCA are doing incredible work in the community to support women and children; there is no question about that. But what COVID-19 has shown us, is that our governments has failed to develop emergency protocols and policies that support diverse populations, especially women, in a time of crisis.

The fate of the 24-hour low barrier emergency centre at Pete Palangio arena will be decided next week.

North Bay city councillor Dave Mendicino is the chair of Nipissing District Housing Corporation and a board member with District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB), says the topic will be a key point of discussion during next Wednesday’s DSSAB board meeting.

“There are some options that are going to be presented to the board next week in terms of short and long term solutions to the low barrier,” said Mendicino.

A quiet and wooded setting off of Dunlop Street West near Anne Street in central Barrie has become a hub for some of the city’s homeless population.

Time is running out for these individuals. They have been told to clear out of Milligan’s Pond by Thursday, June 18.

In a written statement to Barrie 360, the City of Barrie confirmed Municipal Law Enforcement and Barrie Police attended the site on Monday to issue new notices and they will attend to enforce the order.

The City said Mayor Jeff Lehman added an amendment to the emergency order on May 28 to allow for people to camp overnight at Milligan’s Pond for up to 15 days. In the statement issued Tuesday, the City said given the state of the COVID-19 emergency, the purpose of this was to give enforcement agencies and social services time to get together and enforce the bylaws compassionately and help the people who are at Milligan’s Pond.

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.