News and Articles

What Do We Value: Homeless People’s Rights Amid COVID-19

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press / Christopher Katsarov
March 30, 2020

This article is part of a series titled “What Do We Value?”

With public health officials and politicians advising and enforcing shelter-at-home measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, one key population faces an aggravated risk: the homeless. For most, social distancing is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, in crowded shelters, and frequent hand-washing is a luxury for those still on the streets.

Roxie Danielson, a street nurse in Toronto, unpacks the impact of COVID-19 on homeless populations in an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, “For the homeless, the coronavirus crisis is untenable – but so is the social-distancing response.” Frontline workers predict that COVID-19 could “explode” within Toronto’s homeless population.

Society is rife with inequality and certain populations are systematically made more vulnerable to crises; part of addressing this inequity requires reimagining our built environment and reassessing our public health interventions to ensure belonging for all

In the midst of this pandemic, this can mean creating more hand-washing stations to ensure proper hygiene for homeless people as the city of Berkeley has done, or repurposing spaces that have been closed into homeless shelters. Similarly, our public health interventions must consider the tenability and repercussions for all populations—when we close down shops and services or refuse to accept cash, how does this impact those who are dependent on those services for day-to-day survival or those who do not have bank accounts and credit cards?

Building a world in which everyone belongs and everyone is valued requires actively considering the needs of all populations, particularly those who are marginalized. During this pandemic, it is essential that we do not overlook homeless people’s rights to safety, security, and health.