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News conference: Impacts of COVID-19 in Toronto

March 23, 2020

OCAP and SHJN are calling a news conference on measures necessary to mitigate deadly impacts of COVID-19 on homeless people, those on social assistance, and on those whose lives are being saved by the overdose prevention sites.

News Conference, Monday, March 23 at 10am in front of entrance to Regent Park Community Centre, 402 Shuter Street.

Speakers: Gaetan Heroux, Yogi Acharya (OCAP), Greg Cook (Shelter and Housing Justice Network), Dr. Ritika Goel (physician with extensive experience serving homeless people), and Franky Morris (Overdose Prevention Worker). Some quotes included below.

Toronto: Representatives from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, Street Nurses Network and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society will address the impact of COVID-19 on poor and homeless people and make a case for the following:

Rapid and dramatic increase in shelter spaces, particularly motel or hotel rooms accessible to homeless people to ease overcrowding in existing emergency centres and allow for social distancing and physical isolation. The expansion must include new drop-in spaces to compensate for the closure of lunch programs, coffee shops, and municipal facilities like libraries and community centres which has near-eliminated infrastructure homeless people for food, indoor space, and sanitation.

An immediate boost to social assistance rates to compensate for the loss of food programs, soup kitchens, and the cost of self-quarantining; extending coverage to people without immigration status.

Expanded access to safer opioid prescribing programs, overdose prevention sites and making witnessed injection and harm reduction support available at quarantine facilities; ensuring access to personal protective equipment at overdose prevention sites and working with people who use drugs to prevent further escalation in overdoses and overdose related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last night thousands of homeless people stayed in overcrowded shelters leaving them in unsafe conditions and unable to protect themselves against the CONVID-19 virus. Over the last week the Out of The Cold programs, drop-in centres, food programs and all of the city's libraries and community centres were shut down. This has contributed to the further deterioration of the situation where now large numbers of people now find themselves unable to meet some of their most basic needs such as shelter, food and access to washrooms,” says Gaetan Heroux, OCAP member and ID clinic worker who has worked with homeless people in the downtown east for over three decades.

“It is vital that the sub-poverty income of people on social assistance is raised to allow them the capacity to secure food and other necessities to survive this pandemic. Hungry people cannot self-isolate,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with the OCAP.

“This pandemic is hitting our communities amid an opioid overdose crisis. People who use drugs are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and overdose deaths resulting from service reductions at Supervised Consumption Sites, social service closures and isolation during quarantine. The government’s response to the pandemic must include an expansion of safer opioid prescribing programs and overdose prevention sites,” Franky Morris, overdose prevention worker in the City’s downtown east end.

Media Contact:
Yogi Acharya, Organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, 647-764-0488


Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
157 Carlton St #201
Toronto, ON. M5A 2K3
Phone: 416-925-6939
Fax: 1 855-714-0566 (toll free)
Twitter: @OCAPtoronto

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