In the spirit of community collaboration we we’d like to share what’s being done to support individuals who are vulnerable experiencing or at risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
People experiencing homelessness are at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection and severe outcomes. Pre-existing conditions, the social determinants of health, living in congregate settings, lack of ability to physically distance and lack of access to basic sanitation contribute to this risk. Based on the data gathered through the Point in Time Count and the By Name List, there are approximately two hundred people in our community who are homeless. Some are accessing emergency shelters, transitional housing and others are sleeping rough. The pandemic has brought to light the insufficiencies of the housing system, and the challenges that people experiencing homelessness face in accessing minimum protections to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.
Actively collaborating with several key community partners and services from the beginning of the pandemic (KFL&A Public Health, City of Kingston, United Way KFL&A, AMHS-KFLA, Kingston Home Base Housing, Kingston Youth Shelter, Integrated Care Hub, Lionhearts, HARS, Street Health Centre (KCHC), Paramedics, Kingston Police – to name a few), our community’s response measures aim to reduce transmission of the virus while limiting disruptions to crucial services and supports available for people experiencing homelessness.
The City of Kingston Situational Response Team was set up to bring together community service providers and partners to strengthen and mobilize resources to assist and identify needs, and to support programs and services to protect the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.
Firstly, we absolutely acknowledge that:
Housing is a nation/province-wide issue we are all experiencing
Communities across the country are facing this crisis, which starts with the lack of affordable housing, and is compounded by staff shortages, lack of safe spaces, COVID-19 and enhanced/complex needs in people with addictions and mental health.
It’s no secret that there’s a housing shortage – especially affordable housing. Kingston endorses and supports the Housing First model, however there is not enough supply to ensure safe and sustainable housing for everyone in need.
We are all collaborating to create as many options as possible. Through this collaboration, over the past two years a record number of new housing initiatives have been approved and we will see a number of emergency, transitional and affordable housing developments coming online within the month.
The impacts of the epidemic of drug poisoning
Concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic, is the epidemic of drug poisoning. In communities across North America, the pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, with deaths from overdoses and frequent life-saving interventions by medical professionals, peer workers, volunteers, and social workers. People who struggle with mental health and substance use disorders are challenged with finding and maintaining housing and support services. As these needs rise and get more complex, so do the services that are required to support them. Particularly troubling is the rise in individuals who shelter in unsafe situations and the insufficient resources needed to keep them safe. During the pandemic, the advice is to isolate and distance from one another. In a drug poisoning crisis, the most dangerous thing is to use substances alone. This dichotomy adds to the complexity of a community’s response.
Pandemic pressure points.
Simply put, COVID-19 has brought significant challenges to our homelessness system. It has cut shelter capacity in half and caused individuals to be more hesitant about accessing shelter services. This alone has a massive impact on service provision – from adding complexity to everyday logistics to keeping service users and staff safe.
The first positive case among this vulnerable population was identified late on Wednesday, October 27th in a person who had accessed services at the Integrated Care Hub. Immediately, wide-scale testing began and by Saturday October, 30th other cases were identified. To avoid spread, people who were positive, were unable to access shelter services. There was no other space in the community for people to isolate safely. Trailers are in short supply, but some were located and brought in as an alternative for individuals who were sick in their tents. Food was arranged, and service providers worked through the weekend trying to arrange hydro and other basics. Hydro was finally hooked up on Monday.
A community partner critical response group was set up with sub-groups for specifics such as healthcare, community needs, logistics, supplies, etc. They met and continue to meet daily to identify and monitor the situation and problem-solve as critical issues arise.
Space is an issue, but staff shortages are alarming
Staff shortage is a serious and growing concern. Not only is it a concern to fill vacancies and add employees to move towards expanding services, but it is impossible to relieve burned-out employees. There is no break or respite across frontline agencies and this is a constant need we continue to address
Without adequate staffing, agencies struggle to deliver services and support people who are sick and need care. Like healthcare workers and first responders, staff in social service agencies are exhausted, juggling multiple shifts and duties. With this latest community spread and outbreaks, the situation is relentless. There has been a community call out for volunteers to assist and we are pleased that some have responded.
Where things currently stand
Currently, staff at all shelters are working as hard as they can with regular testing, Personal Protective Equipment use, extra cleaning and support of clients. Community members who test positive are provided with motel rooms when they are available. Trailers are available for people who wish to use them.
Food delivery has been expanded as needed, including to those who are asked to isolate and are housed. Mobile buses provided by Kingston Transit visit various sites in the community to provide rapid testing and vaccinations.
When people test positive, they are asked to isolate. However, for various reasons, not everyone is able to do so; some choose not to isolate. Staff cannot force anyone who is unwilling or unable to follow the guidelines from Public Health.
There is a limited supply of isolation spaces; and, even if space were found, there are not enough staff members to expand into other spaces.
Some of the services provided by the community partner group:
Emergency Food Provision
Example: Food Provision
Nov 24, 2021
Nov 27, 2021
Nov 30, 2021
COVID-19 / Medical Services
30 Cell Phones/chargers donated.
The pandemic has highlighted the pre-existing vulnerabilities of people experiencing homelessness and the need to address housing issues, as well as unique challenges for this population during a pandemic.
What has come to light is that it will take a lot more partners and services continuing to work together to address the complex issues outlined in this document. In short, it will take a community that is fully engaged and working toward the same goals to make a difference.
Our community has come together to find solutions collaboratively and in partnership. Please support our work with your reach.
Addiction and Mental Health Services KFL&A – Carol Ravnaas
City of Kingston – Ruth Noordegraaf
HARS & Integrated Care Hub – Gilles Charette
KFL&A Public Health – Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Fairleigh Seaton, Adrienne Hansen-Taugher
Kingston Community Health Centres – Mike Bell
Kingston Fire & Rescue – Chief Shawn Armstrong
Kingston Home Base Housing – Tom Greening
Kingston Police – Chief Antje McNeely
Kingston Youth Shelter – Catherine Oxford
Lionhearts Inc. – Shawn Seargeant
United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington – Bhavana Varma