Comparing Guelph and Toronto's Actions to Support the Vulnerable Population During a Pandemic
By Zoe Chevalier
The structure of the Canadian government creates a flow of power from the Federal Government (The Crown) to the Provincial Government (Province leaders) than to the Municipal (County) Government. The upper two systems of government, Federal and Provincial, are not involved in social services provided to the homeless vulnerable population, other than funding. Social services, such as drop in shelters and soup kitchens, are often run through partnerships between Municipal offices, churches, and non-profit organizations. The impact felt on these social services from the COVID-19 pandemic was from the Federal policies put in place at the beginning of March to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The main policy introduced to prevent the spread is physical distancing, which is mandatory inside any building. Physical distancing means putting distance between you and other people when out in public such as grocery stores and places like shelters. This is important in slowing the community spread but left the vulnerable population without a safe place to sleep or isolate because it lowered the maximum capacity in pre-existing shelters. As Amy discusses in her archive page COVID-19 forced the shut down of three local shelters in Guelph, Ontario: Dwelling Place (for women), Stepping Stone (for men) and Wyndham House (for youth) on March 27th. Most overnight shelters had to be modified to accept less people or were shutdown.
However, to compensate for the shutdown of already existing shelter structures the Municipalities of Guelph and Toronto worked with third party organizations to buy out hotel rooms so that anyone living on the streets could have a safe place to isolate during the lockdown. The city of Toronto closed the Out of the Cold winter program which offered meals and overnight spaces for individuals experiencing homelessness to sleep, delivered by a network of inter-denominational faith-based organizations, because of the high mobility of people who use this program. Toronto instead is supplying free hotel rooms to help people get off the streets during the 2020/2021 winter season which will be run by Dixon Hall. The Provincial government of Ontario supplied more funding to Municipalities so they could open COVID safe isolation centers and shelters for people experiencing homelessness. When researching for this archive I discovered that the information found on the Guelph and Toronto Municipal websites both offer phone numbers and hours of operations for shelters that are open for operation. The City of Guelph has a separate center called the Supported Isolation Shelter (SIS), which offers rooms for homeless people to isolate for fourteen days if they have either tested positive, come into contact, or have symptoms of COVID-19.
Even with the extra rooms opening up the enforcement of the new policies isn’t always strictly followed. The City of Toronto was taken to court by housing advocates in June because open shelters were not properly applying the physical distancing policy, the bunk beds were not distance two meters. The action plans of both the Toronto and Guelph municipalities to the response of COVID-19 are vary similar in regard to prevention, mitigation, and recovery. The similarities between how the City of Toronto and the City of Guelph reacted regarding support for people who are homeless is due to the federal government not playing an active role in the creation and administration of services provided for people who are homeless.