COVID-19 homeless

Activists demand urgent action as COVID-19 cases climb among Toronto’s homeless

Petition stresses need to relocate city's homeless into vacant hotels

A case of COVID-19 has hit Seaton House, the largest and busiest homeless shelter in Toronto, and advocates are calling on the city to take immediate action.

On Tuesday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, confirmed that an individual at Seaton House tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“We are actively collaborating with Seaton House to carefully investigate this matter. The client is currently in self-isolation as is the one other client with whom he shared a room,” de Villa said. “My team is actively following up with any other close contacts identified.”

The individual at Seaton House brings the shelter system’s total number of known cases up to six.

A petition urging Mayor John Tory to move more homeless into the 1,200 vacant hotel rooms acquired by the city last month has garnered more than 38,000 signatures on To date, activists say only 313 of the city’s 7,969 homeless have been successfully relocated.



Street nurse Cathy Crowe stressed the urgency of the situation in a news release issued Tuesday.

“Every day we hear the mayor issue stern warnings to Toronto residents to obey public health measures. It’s time he heed his own warnings and stop jeopardizing the lives of homeless people stuck in facilities that can’t implement basic public health measures,” Crowe said.

On Mar. 24, the city announced it was securing additional space for the homeless after two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the shelter system.

Later, in a tweet on April 4, councillor Joe Cressy said the city had acquired 1,200 vacant hotel rooms for the homeless population. “Residents began moving in last week, with a priority for high risk individuals, especially seniors. This is just the start,” he said.

However homeless advocates say the response has been too slow and doesn’t go far enough.



Individuals experiencing homelessness are of particular risk of contracting the disease and experts say shelter systems are potential hot spots for future outbreaks.

In addition to securing vacant hotel rooms, the city has reopened community centres to support distancing efforts. Toronto has also introduced Canada’s first isolation site for homeless people awaiting COVID-19 test results.



Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health, said Toronto has increased the isolation centre’s capacity from 40 beds to 200 beds.



In the meantime, homeless advocates argue the recommended two metres of social distancing is nearly impossible for those who remain in Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is holding a news conference and delegation via Zoom call at 3 p.m. today. Zoom Info: Video Link | Call-in: 647 374 4685

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