CMA Foundation funding helped 72 communities protect vulnerable people during pandemic

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by The CMA Foundation staff

Emergency shelters to protect people from frigid winter temperatures, food hampers for low-income families, virtual connections for isolated seniors — these are just a few of the programs that have rolled out in response to COVID-19.

Since March, the pandemic has not only taken a toll on health care services, it has also heightened inequities in a range of other sectors, from housing to food security. With stay-at-home orders and physical distancing in effect, those experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable.

Over the past seven months, the CMA Foundation’s $10 million COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations has enabled municipalities to create and expand services needed during the pandemic, including housing, mental health counselling, access to Wi-Fi and other technology, as well as places to safely isolate and sanitize.

Programs include the following:

Emergency shelters

COVID-19 has forced shelters to cut capacity so that they can comply with physical distancing guidelines, leaving many vulnerable people with nowhere to go. In many parts of Canada, escaping extreme winter weather is a matter of life and death. Cities such as Iqaluit, Guelph and Prince Albert have launched emergency shelters to increase capacity.

“Because of COVID-19 we had to remove half of our beds and open a new shelter. We don’t want to leave people in the streets.” — Stephanie Clark, director of recreation for the City of Iqaluit

Boosting public Wi-Fi

Affordable and reliable Internet is necessary for various essential services — applying for jobs, connecting with loved ones and accessing education.  Many Canadians who can’t afford Internet rely on free Wi-Fi services in libraries and other public spaces. When these spaces closed because of COVID-19, cities such as Halifax and St. John’s offered outdoor Wi-Fi hubs to ensure continued access.

Public washroom access

For most people, washroom access is a given — we can wash our hands and brush our teeth without giving it much thought. For people without housing, it’s not so simple, particularly during a pandemic. Vancouver, Winnipeg and Prince George are among the cities that are providing broader access to safe and sanitized public washroom facilities, to help reduce the risk of transmission.

“Ensuring access to clean, safe and dignified washroom use is critical to address both the risk of COVID-19 transmission as well as overdose response.” — Susie Saunders, managing director of non-market housing and social operations for the City of Vancouver

Combating social isolation

In Ontario’s York Region, low-income seniors living in community housing received tablets delivered to their door and technical support offered via video or phone. Thanks to the program, seniors can have virtual consults with a doctor, renew a prescription with a pharmacist or simply stay connected to loved ones.

Converting hotel rooms into temporary housing

In tourist hotspots like Niagara Falls, empty hotel rooms are providing temporary housing for people with nowhere else to go. With increased pressure on shelters, hospitals and other facilities, as well as expanded physical distancing requirements, there has been a surge in demand for homelessness services.

By the numbers: who the CMA Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations supported

  • 72 communities received funding to help vulnerable people
  • 90% of these communities helped people experiencing or at risk of homelessness
  • Nearly 80% of programs related to health and medical services, daytime services, client support services and housing services
  • 25% of communities provided temporary or medium- to long-term shelter solutions
  • More than 30% of communities provided improved access to sanitation facilities or community drop-in centres
  • 25% of communities created or expanded training and counselling services
  • 17% of communities improved the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to vulnerable populations