Coronavirus: Homeless Canadians need help from governments, advocates say

Homeless people staying in close quarters at shelters, tent cities and warming centres are especially at risk for COVID-19, says a community advocate who is working to ensure hand-washing stations and clean bathrooms are available in Vancouver.

Chrissy Brett said social distancing to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus is difficult for people who are housed in crowded spaces and lining up in groups to use bathrooms and get food.

“When shelter mats are two feet away from each other how exactly are you going to do that?” she said in an interview. “Or when you’re told the shelters are full and there’s 100 people that are sitting in (a warming centre) at night trying to stay warm because there’s nowhere else for them to go.”

With more cities suspecting community transmission of the novel coronavirus, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has put out an urgent call for more emergency shelter beds to protect Canada’s vulnerable homeless population.

People who sleep in shelters or hunker down outside already have a lower life expectancy, and often have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk if they develop COVID-19, president Tim Richter said.

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