Building On COVID Innovations To Support People Who Are Homeless

person lying on sidewalk in winter
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Have you ever had a day when you just needed to rest? There could be any number of reasons why you don’t actually do it. But at least there is a home where you can rest, if you want to.

If you need to rest and are homeless, it’s trickier. Where can you rest, especially when it’s cold outside?

Hospital emergency rooms might be the last place you would choose to go to rest. They are busy. Except for the fact that it’s warm, you don’t need to be there — you aren’t sick. You need to . . . rest.

A hospital in Toronto has just opened a clinic for resting. It opened in just five weeks, even though the provincial government, the City of Toronto, the hospital, a community health centre and a community services provider all needed to give consent and support.

They were able to pull the clinic together quickly because these agencies had worked with each other during COVID, running recovery sites. The recovery sites accommodated people who were homeless and needed to wait for test results. If they tested positive, they had a place to stay while they were sick with COVID.

Peer support workers are currently part of the team at the hospital’s clinic, having proved their value over and over at the COVID recovery sites. The clinic team also includes workers from the community health centre and the community services provider.

Articles from across the continent are now reporting that healthy and humane responses developed to assist homeless people are being abandoned and dismantled. It’s encouraging to discover that some innovations that were piloted during COVID are being preserved. The innovations are new ways to tackle problems that existed before the pandemic, and can well benefit from continued application in a recovering world and beyond.

You can read more about the new clinic at the CBC: New hospital program helps Toronto’s homeless, cuts ambulance offload time

You might also be interested in a report about the COVID recovery sites. It documents the process of setting up and operating these ‘waiting places’. It discusses things that went well at the recovery sites and that could be models for tackling other longstanding problems.

The report is one of five case studies in social service innovation which were commissioned and published by the United Way. Links to the case studies are posted here. The title of the report about the recovery sites is Etobicoke recovery site for people experiencing homelessness: reimagining partnership between the healthcare and community services sector