N.S. government working to address COVID-19 homelessness concerns

Public health officials are working with community organizations and shelters across the Halifax Regional Municipality to develop a plan that will help reduce the threat of COVID-19 spread in populations of people who don’t have access to housing.

“Everybody’s taking this seriously, it’s really urgent. We’re really trying not to have any spread in the community because once it does then I’m really afraid that some of the shelters may have to close,” Jeff Karabanow said, one of the coordinators of the Out of the Cold: Emergency Winter Shelter in Halifax.

Nova Scotia public health announced five new presumptive cases on March 18, bringing the provincial total to 12.

Repeated calls by government for people to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible, has led to concerns over how to mitigate the risk of spread in marginalized communities like those who don’t have access to stable housing.

“They’re a very vulnerable population so what do we need to do to try to give them the support that they need to maintain the social distancing if somebody needs to be self isolated. So, that’s a very active piece of work that’s underway, led by government,” Dr. Robert Strang said, the provincial chief medical officer of health.

Karabanow says shelters have been regularly meeting with government officials to develop a strategy that aims to include access to community space that can provide self-isolation and social distancing, if required.

“We want to provide a small capacity, safe-space, that will most likely be staffed now, with employed staff, as oppose to volunteers. Hopefully, we’ll have some volunteers that can support us as well,” Karabanow said.

While shelters wait for further direction from government and public health officials, other community organizations like the Brunswick Street Mission have adapted their services to fall in line with safety measures.

The mission serves a daily breakfast program that feeds between 50 to 70 people.

With COVID-19 precautions in mind, the mission has closed its dining room area and is keeping the breakfast program running by providing takeout to those in need of food.

The mission is now collaborating with other shelters to turn their kitchen into a “food hub”.

“We can be their kitchen, they don’t need that staff cooking and preparing and serving meals if we can offer that for them. So, right now we’re already working with Metro Turning Point,” Sandra Nicholas said, the executive director of Brunswick Street Mission.

The mission also runs a tax program that helps people file their taxes who otherwise wouldn’t be able to on their own.

Plexiglas booths have been built to create a safe space and distance between volunteer accountants and clients.

“It’s funny to think of taxes as a priority but what if you lose your child tax credit in three months because you didn’t get your taxes done now,” Nicholas said.



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