In from the cold: Launching emergency shelters for vulnerable people

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by The CMA Foundation staff

In Iqaluit, escaping the extreme weather is a matter of life and death. On some winter days, more than 80 men cram into a tiny house that’s been repurposed as a shelter — four times the official capacity of the building. So when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, many risked being left in the cold.

Stephanie Clark, director of recreation for the City of Iqaluit, explained that when the pandemic hit, the 20-bed Uquutaq Society Men’s Shelter had to create an alternative, fast.

“Here, survival is about ‘can I find someplace warm to stay?’ You will die if you stay outside in winter.”

The CMA Foundation’s $10 million COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations is helping 73 communities across Canada. Learn more.

COVID-19 has forced shelters across Canada to adhere to physical distancing and cut capacity. With funding from the CMA Foundation, many cities have launched emergency facilities to fill the gap. These include the following:

  • Guelph, ON: A “supported isolation shelter” has been launched for people who are experiencing homelessness and need to isolate.
  • Iqaluit, NT: The Uquutaq Society has been able to maintain an 80-person capacity thanks to its emergency shelter.
  • Montreal, QC: A 50-bed emergency shelter has been opened downtown.
  • Prince Albert, SK: A portion of the funding is supporting a 20-bed emergency cold weather shelter.
  • Summerside, PEI: A shelter has been created for women and children in need of a safe place.

Nunavut had managed to stave off COVID-19 for many months, thanks to strict quarantine measures for travellers. The virus arrived in the territory in early November and now continues to spread.

“COVID-19 would absolutely devastate our territory. We have rural remote communities that are underserved in terms of health facilities,” Clark said. With a severe lack of housing options and the risks posed by COVID-19, shelter services are more important than ever.

“It’s really important we keep the shelter as long as we can.”