Toronto’s Shelter System is Broken and No One is Listening

Effective December 31, 2021, the Government of Ontario changed the requirements of who is eligible for free PCR testing. The tests are basically restricted to symptomatic individuals who are high risk. In these cases, the PCR test is free and difficult to access while the wait time for results is long as the labs are backed up. 

However, on return from an International Flight at Pearson International Airport, the Free Covid testing is covered by showing your health card, as stated on an airport testing centre’s website: “There is no charge to travellers. The cost is covered by the Government of Canada.” The wait time for the results is short. The testing centre also offers RT-LAMP tests (a PCR equivalent) which the user performs with help from someone online and their results come back in less than an hour (as noted from an anonymous source).  In addition to free airport arrivals testings, Covid testing shops have popped-up at the Eaton Centre for those who can afford to get tested while the under-housed are left scrambling looking for a test when they become symptomatic. 

Tdot Women Magazine sat down with Lorraine Lam over Google Meet. Lorraine is an outreach worker for “Sanctuary” in Toronto, which is a community organization that helps clients find solace no matter where they are at in life. Their website states: “We strive to offer the stability, dignity, resources, and love that all of us need to flourish.” Their clients often feel that Sanctuary is the closest thing to “family” they have.

We spoke to discuss the seemingly two-tiered system of health care that is evolving in Toronto as Covid progresses as well as the breakdown in the shelter system that has been happening since before the pandemic.

Lorraine was saying that presently Toronto has only 60 beds for symptomatic Covid homeless clients. The way it stands now, since Covid tests are no longer available to the general public, if you are symptomatic you are instructed to “remain at home and isolate”. As Lorraine stated, “Remaining home is not an option if you don’t have one!”  Good point. So then what does one do? If a shelter has an outbreak, no matter how many beds are available, they can no longer accept any new clients. Most clients end up on the streets facing extremely cold nights.

According to Ms. Lam, the politicians are saying they “were not prepared” for the supply drainage caused by the multiple variants. As we discussed in our conversation, it was all over the news and even the public could have predicted things were going to get bad quickly. 

Apparently, the government is not providing enough PPEs for the clients at shelters, only the staff, and it is the clients who are most vulnerable. There are no RAT tests available to test symptomatic individuals so they can access special beds and isolate. And, as was mentioned, there are few recovery beds allocated for the homeless in Toronto.

All these things seem to involve poor planning on the politician’s part. As Lorraine said, if politicians would have consulted with the clients in the shelters, they would have been able to provide the politicians with the answers on how things could have functioned better. No one is consulting the homeless and their problems are not getting resolved. 

Without enough government assistance, shelters rely heavily on the public for supplies for their clients. Lorraine posted a list on Twitter of things that might be useful:

The subject we ended our conversation on was in reference to typical negative attitudes that Lorraine has to face in her field of work. There are so many misinformed people who seem to blame the homeless for being in their situation. This is the same group that gets angry when houseless vulnerable folks ride the subway because it is far too cold to sleep in -30C weather outside. Ms Lam stated, “If everyone were to look after society from the vulnerable sector up, instead of skipping over them and blaming them for being where they are, things would function better for everyone.” It’s Lorraine’s hope for a better future that keeps us all going.

If you’d like to support “Sanctuary” please go to their website here.

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