How COVID-19 has affected homelessness in Canada
Flood lines is a podcast series from the Atlantic about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It follows the lives of four people who lived through the flooding and its aftermath and shows how government failures and misinformation led to tragedies far beyond what the hurricane cost host van newkirk shows, what we can learn today from that disaster fifteen years ago, you can listen to flood lines wherever you get your podcasts. This is a CBC podcast for many Canadians this as being Thanksgiving weekend like no other, and that is especially true if you live in a region where Kovic is still spreading but for Canadians who live in tents or in shelters or who are otherwise homeless. Cove, has made a difficult situation even worse recall winslow knows all too. Well, what it's like to live on the streets she joins me now from Caitland, British Columbia Raquel Good Morning. How are you doing? Better better than I've been cou. Well, that's great to hear. Take me back to this summer in June of this summer. Where were you living? I was in Port Coquitlam not too far from where I am. And I was Probably out of the main town, I was in the main township and then I was a little bit outcry and I was homeless. Where exactly where you living when you say you were homeless where were you by by a mall area where like a Home Depot and Wal Mart and it'd be Kinda like big shop you could think of. If, you had to describe what that area was. Where that street was the parking lot was, how would you describe it? Pay Me a picture it was it was a highway leading up to it and then attorney often there's like a Boston pizzas quite a busy road when when this the covert hit it was brief strange because everything kind of went like it was like thirty years earlier, it seemed like the cars were. Gone and the buses were empty and but up there was a big big town centre. This was always a lot of people and. It was. It was interesting but it was scary and and crazy. I'd say, how did you end up? With nowhere to live. With this started in two, thousand, fourteen, I met somebody and got into a relationship and the person turned out to be just a tad crazy and quickly I you know was reacting to his crazy making behavior and I ended up using my kids. and. Having No of course, you baby boomers goes your home goes in your you don't have anywhere, but I found a place to live in like a harm reduction. They call it 'cause it was low rents and they basically they were keeping people off the streets and they were able to operate the cost for them went up over the past three years so that Carter and harder to keep but our property got sold, we lived in an to build. Apartments 'cause Poku on becoming a very big center in a lot of people moving in and the building and building building, and all the small houses are being downsized. House was torn down, and that's finding a place to rent had gone up that previous two years and the rents. Basically, you know one whole redwood all I had for months to live on. So it was kind of hard thinking of how I was ever going to get out of that situation. Could you have ever imagined before this happened that you would have ended up homeless No No, I don't think anyone who knew me would take. I think that I mean I my life was around my home Mike Kids Grocery shopping. That was my big day outgoing grocery shopping and I always brought one of my children with me. have identical triplet boys and a younger daughter, ten months younger and older daughter. But one no one would always come with me and have a day with me and. To be homeless and to not know where I'm going to sweep I was terrified. Do. You remember the first night that you were. had a close friend who was with me, which is good and I was in his friends then at the first little bit like the first week or two. So it kind of ease that. Transition a little bit but it quickly that quickly became like very overcrowded in cold and. and. When that person must've city it was I don't know it was this. You're always worried about like 'cause the people call the police 'cause you're sleeping and you want WanNa go somewhere. We feel fairly safe in a parking lot or in a place that's not so open and they of course, would not want people in front of their shops. So their stores and it was you start, you start to feel like you're like less than a person. And know you know they're just doing their job to keep their business going, but it really plays on you and you get lost in you stop focusing on what you need in your life and just try to get through that day. I was going to say what is horrible is going to say, what does it feel like to feel the way you described that less than a person? that's been happy I only recently. When I came in here. I started. Try. Not to say like so who went around saying I'm not even person anymore because it feels like the way the another whole topic for show be the ministry and Child Services but the way they operate is so So. Opposite of what you would think it should be to help children and families be healthy. You do when you children are taking and for me that is who I am. It's it's it's it's part of me. I feel like I can't walk down the street with my children are not free if I even have a home or afford to pay rent where I was born and where I live my whole life, you start to feel like your bird and and and you know every I've I have a mother I have children and you wonder if people know what you carry with you when you walk around and you're never quite feel like you belong it's very, it's horrible. You met a police officer who helped you while you were out on the streets. Tell me a little bit about that. There's several who actually really good but I one day I was, hey, the supermarket inputs equivalent and. Me and my friend. And they were there for some other reason than they Clinton was sending around in the alley and they were talking to us and. He. He could. Do Remember who I am. I said I didn't remember his last name but said Glen said. And he said, you know about the shelter the the just opened in Coquitlam I said, no I don't know about a shelter because it's cold covert and right I just like my mind just wanted to like just be lying find the mental health buildings, which is where you go. To for the call, the Phoenix project and I was just like aesthetic. Call the economy going to get out of this I I broke down in the parking lot is in and has had people who live in the area come up to me and asked me cake and they help and give me clothes or give me money or food, and they save your life when they do something like that. But then the no that I may have a bed. In a room of my own after six years. I mean you really value that when you don't have it if you just can't imagine. Waking Up, and you're you know I made an umbrella with a tarp and movie like it was my little igloo and. It's it's amazing when he does like this might be my answer. 'cause you you pray in. And you send your thoughts to your kids and you've just like something's gotTa. Give Right. It give them where are you living now? I'm in Kuwait Room in on the caused ear see it's A. Shelter, put up two to. Four US. People like myself. Because of the numbers were really rising in the tri cities area and I have my own room it's a hotel that they took the second floor to run this program and it's run by already existing society that out of Surrey at first, it was a little bit like it did I didn't think I was going to get help and. It was kind of you know this is not going to be anything and then you realize everybody's learning and they're all new to the people running it, and it was like you connect with a few people and and they start to have your voice for you. If you can't if you if you're having days where they talked to the higher up staff and it's just started. To, work people are starting to you know trust that maybe there are people here who want to do something more than just give you someone to sleep at night and it is. It's they gave me their word yesterday's Sandra. We're not going let that. Happen you go back on the street we're going help you. We're GONNA help you do this and get sweet you need to. Go. So you can have your life back and I was actually I, feel safe for the first time you know while that's amazing. I mean, in part of this, it's wild because Cova has had all of these awful consequences. But one of the things that's happened in some ways is that it sounds like the response to covert actually helped you in the situation that you were in. It did it's a shame. It took something like Kobe for people to see the that people need home and that we're all the same people. We all have a mother. We all were born from somewhere and we're babies at one time. But for me, it's like it was my chance for to be noticed. Because there's not a lot of services in our country right now, there's really has been. Just a stripping of the basics, and which is a shame, and this is giving a little bit of that back because of that happening right as you mentioned, I mean the numbers of people who are out on the streets arising not just in British Columbia but right across this country knowing what you know, what is it? That could be done to help other folk who find themselves in this situation that you were in I've always found being somebody. who had you know low? Low income and I had was blessed with. Triplets put sixteen years ago and the resources and the help was not there the way it should have I think having outreach workers that don't rely on so much of this policy thing. We have to learn that to see people as humans and stopping help because of blanket treatment by treatment can kill families because the people don't notice the. Individual. To a whole bunch of individuals who what makes Canada Canada. We all together, make this wonderful place we stop the individuals. We all. We can have a lot of them off because I didn't fit into a lot of. Places with me and my four kids and my oldest daughter when she was home, we were different and we needed a lot of different. Rules different treatment because I was not your typical mom with one or two kids, it's about services about getting Canada back to being the place that. Says we're all here in this whether you have money or whether or not. We're the bigger ones will take care of the small on. You know be like a family it's just a bigger family that's I. Think we're losing that in our country the big time if I was to talk to a year or two down the road, where would you wanNA, be. I WANNA be wherever my kids are an they every day I just said to them yesterday because we we hadn't been talking because they had no phone and they were getting to school and I said, you know I've never been away. You've been with me every day because. You. Realize you've saved my life every day because knowing there I have to go back. I have to get back if it doesn't matter how many times I try to go past or through the ministry and how it works in on all the different end the month the thing is the housing getting a home to live in is where what I need now and that was I was. So afraid I'll never find it and with people like yourself and Sandra and this this project I think I'm going to have it. Now I think it will come when we worked together I WANNA be where they are. I. Wanted to just be living unlike and making sure people know when you walk down the street and you see somebody whether they're drinking or above of you think. Begging whatever the during there's somebody's child somebody gave birth to that person and you should treat them. As that. Don't, ever look at them as anything else because we're all just people and we gotta start noticing that because it's just it's too big a consequence. If we don't, you know we get places where it takes virus like this. I start treating each other like human beings that that shouldn't happen play Canada it just shouldn't happen. We're cal I, wish you the best of luck. and. I. Hope You do. Okay. So it's great to talk to you take care of yourself. Can I say hello to Jacob Even Matthew Meghan Zoe you does your kids mom yeah. Doesn't make kids that's fantastic. Thank you so much for doing this for cal. Thanks take care of yourself. By Williams low is somebody who was homeless. Now she has a place. Thanks to the efforts of the Phoenix Society and this morning she was in Coquitlam. British Columbia. I'm speaking to you at a moment of grave crisis. I'm Jeff Turner, and this is recall it's a series about history, not the ancient past but history that still hot to the touch. In this first season, I, explore a revolutionary political movement that brought a modern democracy to the brink. You can find recall how to start a revolution on the CBC listen APP or wherever you get your podcasts. Seven my cars is calling for the police have been running up and down the street and telling us that we need to get out. During. Lamb. By climbing and host for the CBC podcast world on fire. Our latest episode were taking you to the western United States where fires are burning unprecedented rate and we're finding out how it's affecting us here in Canada get world on fire CBC listen or wherever you get your podcast soon. As recall mentioned there are people who are living rough right now in every part of Canada Eric Johnson is street outreach worker in Halifax he's seen a lot more people on the streets since Kobe began we met up with him as he was handing out sleeping supplies including a sleeping bag and a tarp. Almost every week it seems like I'm meeting somebody new I've never seen before and who is probably never been homeless before but we're seeing not only more people but all new. Type of homeless person where it's not people who've been homeless for a long time there's a lot of people who are newly homeless and the main driving factor is there's just no place for them to live. You know a lot of people historically have faced a lot of different barriers to being housed. So that's often you know mental health addiction physical health but the thing that I've noticed is we still have that was way too many people who face bears like that. But it just seems like there's also people who are primarily homeless purely economic factors and just the fact that they cannot afford rent everywhere. You look everywhere I look at least I see a place where. Last year or six months ago there wasn't somebody leaving. But now there's people in every park. There's people on so many different benches on just so many random little looks and crannies all over the city that once you start to look for it, you see homelessness everywhere which I think. You know I've been doing this for about ten years or so and in previous years I've never. Really had to look but now you don't have to look very hard to find people who are homeless in health actually now Eric Johnson is a street outreach worker in Halifax speaking with our producer Mary Katherine McIntosh Dr Andrew Bond has been listening in he's medical director of the Inner City Health Associates in Toronto and has been working to get people off the street and into homes for years Dr Good Morning to you. Good morning it's interesting hearing eric say. Yes. There are more people but there's also a different type of people who are out on the streets people who are newly homeless what do you make of that? The what we know now that there's a number of things that are happening at the same time which is making. situation right across the country incredibly complex one we know that we're feasting increasing affordability crisis and both in terms of housing prices that are rents going up but also the income supports despite the benefits coming through with Serb had been difficult to get the people who are on the streets, and so the ability to to match income to vailable portable places is is certainly a huge challenge that increased through covert We know that now the moratorium on these actions has a across provinces starting to be lifted and that's really putting pressure on on thousands of people right across the country and of course, with Cova. Over the last over seven months really just spreading throughout the community. Also shelter systems across the country that people are often voting with their feet when they're not able to get shelter space that has adequate social distancing or or resourcing to keep them safe for with hygiene supplies and supports that many people are opting when they don't have any other options to go the streets to go to tense and encampments. Trying is much distance as they can themselves. So it's very much a self protective practice. It's happening amidst an economic crisis at the same time to do one's Best Under these deeply complex and difficult circumstances that are terrifying for so many people and you see that across the country of the city that I live in the neighborhood that I live in there are tenting campaigns in in many of the park's because people don't feel safe. Within. The shelter system when this pandemic began, you came up with a plan that has been used across this country just tell us about this. Sure, so at the very beginning we we certainly saw the foreshadows in in eastern European countries, and even some early evidence earn homeless population within China's well that we knew there was gonna be disproportionate risk experience an adverse impact on people who are experiencing homelessness the the plan that we. Work together with population health team and partners to put in place was to. A few pieces. One was that there was adequate social distancing Roy solution that could be available for people knowing that we would not be able to create that largely within the existing shelter system. That's the only way to do. That would be to create standalone isolation facilities for those who are either exposed or those who were found out to have Kobe. Control Book keep them safe and supported during that time. So ensuring they had adequate health and social supports but also ensuring that we have them in the space that doesn't expose other people to ongoing spread as wealth that those who are still in the shelter system. Other species have some more space to be having isolate was absolutely critical and right across the country starting in February and March We were fortunate enough along with. Many values across the country they receive provincial funding and others as well. Federal Large Federal released the funds that were fairly unrestricted to allow us to do this kind of work in development for `isolation but also to really advocate for the need for. Outreach testing and surveillance within the shelters as well. So fine cases as soon as they were were present in the shelter system and then quickly support and move them to the the next most safe place that we possibly could That was very critical relying on the reactive approach to testing where people had to show up or book appointments. For example, wasn't something that was going to be viable at any point four for for most people homelessness just due to the the general. Safety in this social off the people already experienced my life outside of Covid that wasn't going to be viable strategy, and so we need to bring that. into play, and then we needed to make sure that we had a very robust. System. That's never existed before for people trenching homelessness across the country. To ensure that the housing homelessness after was connected as much as possible to the healthcare sector Generally, there's been patchwork -bility of some work innovations across the country to get that kind of connection and coordination between the to sectors but there's unlike long-term care sector. There isn't the mandated you know well resourced support in both the health and social supports for those who were living within the shelter system, and we need to really put in place early to ensure that ask people move from shelter healthcare and back. Out into isolation facilities that we had a system in place that could as much as possible Stewart people through the challenges of moving from one place to another name is one of those challenges were one of the challenges has been making sure that people feel welcome. We've heard stories of of tensions in neighborhoods where homeless people have been moved or were modular housing has gone up how do you do? We only have a minute or so left but how how do you go about addressing that to make sure that people feel welcome Yeah. Absolutely I I think I in any time you move any group of people into a new place you community there's bound to be relationship challenges and sort of relationship building a needs to happen and the order to have that happen well, there needs to be trust respect and confidence in what's happening in that space So certainly, there needs to be transparent regular communication, very strong reflection and feedback from the community to ensure that. They know what's happening, but also invoice any of their concerns and to be able to have that incorporated into plans, and then to really make sure that we have the resources and supports in place in those facilities so that people feel that the they the kind of support people need to stay in a safe place both keep the community and the individual's they're safe. They need to have confidence that that that support system is in place, and so that needs to be articulated very clearly in fairly regularly, and then to have an ongoing relationship building process that we can recognize none of us are going to. Achieve Perfection right out of the gates and that we're GonNa meet actually work together to keep working for people. But we I think everywhere across the country we know that no one wants someone can have have the kind of experience that were cal had and has mentioned earlier that we can work together to actually deliver the kinds of support that need to be in place So as long as we really keep those communication channels opening. Open, and ensure that we're working together and that the that people know that there are the resources going into provide mental health and social supports in primary care. This is vital work doctors to hear what you're doing about A. Thank you. Thanks so much Dr Andrew Bond Medical Director of Inner City Health Associates in Toronto. For more CBC PODCASTS GO TO CBC DOT CA slash podcasts.