Open Letter from Doctors and Nurse Practitioners Calls for Immediate Action to Support Under-housed People during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over 300 doctors and nurse practitioners, many of whom work directly with individuals experiencing homelessness, demand urgent action on the crisis facing under-housed people during this pandemic. As services shut down and space for shelter is exceptionally limited, we are seeing some of Ontario’s most marginalized populations being excluded from the essential public health measures required to protect against coronavirus, such as hand washing, physical distancing, and self-isolation. If we continuing as we are, there will be rapid spread, many preventable deaths, and an inability to flatten the curve, further overwhelming our healthcare system.

The letter makes the following demands

  1. All shelters, respites, drop-ins and boarding homes have access to COVID-19 outreach testing and sentinel surveillance
  2. That local public health agencies issue an order for physical distancing for all shelters/respites/drop ins
  3. Rapid opening of 7000+ hotel rooms, housing units and student residences

Read the full letter

Media coverage

  • Interview on CBC Toronto News by Talia Ricci
CBC Toronto reporter Talia Ricci interviews two Toronto physicians, Dr. Nanky Rai and Dr. Michaela Beder, who work directly with individuals experiencing homelessness and see the urgency of action amidst this pandemic

Income Security and Assistance during COVID-19: Open Letter, #RaiseTheRates Campaign, and Press Conference

Income insecurity is a significant determinant of health, and during the COVID-19 pandemic health disparities will only be worsened. Many Ontarian’s will be facing a loss of income during this pandemic, but low-income Ontarian’s will be hit the hardest. Many low-income Ontarian’s cannot afford to buy large amounts of food and supplies at one time, forcing individuals to go out frequently against public health recommendations. Many will also lose services they rely on to make it possible to narrowly get by each month, such as drop-ins and food banks. Some will be forced to continue to engage in precarious work, increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19, as current social assistance rates do not provide a livable income even during the best of times.

During our current time of crisis, we must ensure that no one is left behind!

HPAP has been working with many community organizations to address income insecurity amongst low-income Ontarian’s during this pandemic.

Open Letter

Please help us share an Open Letter released by the Income Security Advocacy Centre. The letter demands that social assistance rates are raised and that federal benefits such as Employment Insurance or the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit are not subject to clawbacks. The letter has been signed by over 130 community organizations.

Help us share this action

Link to article in the Toronto Star by Laurie Monsebraaten: Open Letter urges Ontario to boost support for people on social assistance

Link to the Open Letter:

#RaiseTheRates Campaign

On April 7th, HPAP led a campaign to flood Minister Todd Smith’s phone lines to advocate for our demands in the Open Letter.

Keep the momentum going on this campaign

Step 1: Call Todd Smith’s office at 1-613-962-1144, feel free to use our script below

Hi, my name is ______ and I am a ______(social assistance recipient, student, healthcare provider, mother, business owner etc.) in Ontario. I’m calling Minister Smith’s office today to ask him to help to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities by raising social assistance rates and stopping the clawbacks on federal income supports for social assistance recipients. If low income Ontarians have enough income to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will protect us all by reducing the spread of COVID-19. 

Step 2: Take a picture of yourself calling Todd Smith on social media with the hashtags #RaiseTheRates and #NoClawbacks

Step 3: Share our posts

Press Conference

On April 8, 2020, Arash Ghiassi (lawyer at Income Security Advocacy Centre) hosted a press conference discussing the Open Letter released by the Income Security Advocacy Centre. The conference was co-hosted by Andrea Hatala (Recipient Co-Chair, ODSP Action Coalition), Dr. Jonathon Herriot (Family Physician and Health Providers Against Poverty Co-Chair), and Talia Bronstein (VP Research and Advocacy, Daily Bread Food Bank).

COVID-19 Survey on Shelters, Respites, and Drop-ins

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Providers Against Poverty surveyed staff at 22 shelters, respites, and drop-ins between March 29 and April 6, 2020 to determine the impact of the lack of urgent governmental support to adequately protect those experiencing homelessness in Toronto and those who care for them. We found that a catastrophic and widespread outbreak of COVID-19 across the shelter system is inevitable unless action is taken immediately.

The five main issues that came up across sites were:

  1. Shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • All sites are low on PPE and some have none
  2. Inadequate space for physical distancing or self-isolation
    • Only two shelters reported keeping beds 6 feet apart, multiple shelters have beds 2 feet apart, and some are still using bunk beds
  3. Staffing shortages
    • Most services running at reduced staff capacity, as staff have been required to self-isolate
    • There is a risk of services shutting down as more workers test positive
  4. Screening issues
    • Front-line staff conducting screening without PPE
    • Some shelters are not able to do adequate screening
  5. No way to practice prevention strategies  
    • There is very limited living options for individuals to adequately physically distance before contracting COVID-19 as the current emergency shelters created for COVID-19 are only supporting those being tested or confirmed positive
    • Hand washing is a key preventative measure in this pandemic, because of shutdown of drop-ins and community centres there is a lack of access to clean water

We demand that the Ministry of Health, Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Toronto Medical Officer of Health take the following actions to prevent a humanitarian disaster:

  1. Order the opening of hotels, housing units, and student residence rooms NOW to house the 7000+ people experiencing homelessness in order to voluntarily and safely practice physical distancing. 
  2. Immediately provide appropriate PPE and education on its use to front-line workers and symptomatic clients in drop-ins, shelters, and respites.
  3. Implement a robust overdose prevention strategy with safe witnessed consumption spaces at the sites and scaling up of Safe Opioid Supply programs.
  4. Partner with community agencies to safely transition people into housing and provide ongoing support.
  5. Provide outreach COVID screening and testing at shelters, hotels, respites, and drop-ins.

Check out and share our infographic

Media Features:

Toronto Star Exclusive by Jennifer Pagliaro – Widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in Toronto’s shelters ‘inevitable’ without proper equipment, distancing, says advocacy group

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