• Councillor Mark Grimes

City of Toronto continues to prioritize access to vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness

The City of Toronto is committed to ensuring the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness living in shelters and outdoor settings during the COVID-19 pandemic and has scheduled 154 COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout January.

The City has been working tirelessly in collaboration with the Toronto Shelter Network (TSN), Toronto Public Health (TPH) and health partners, including Inner City Health Associates (ICHA), Indigenous Health Teams, Ontario Health Toronto, local hospitals, family doctors and community-based health care service providers to increase vaccine uptake amongst people experiencing homelessness. For the month of January, TPH has 50 scheduled immunization clinics and ICHA has 104 scheduled clinics.

TPH mobile vaccine clinics are held at shelters, 24-hour respite sites and 24-hour women’s drop-ins, seven days a week. Since May 7, 2021, the City has administered 12,429 doses at 871 shelter and drop-in clinics. Since April 19, 2021, ICHA’s Nursing Teams have hosted 447 shelter clinics. As of December 31, 2021, 3,226 COVID-19 vaccines have been given to people experiencing homelessness by ICHA, in addition to those provided by TPH.

As of January 7, 2022, 76 per cent of those aged 12 and above currently staying in the shelter system have received their first dose, 65 per cent have received their second dose, and 13 per cent have received their third dose. 30 per cent of those aged 5 to 11 have received their first dose.

To help increase vaccine uptake, the City continues to provide incentives for people experiencing homelessness to attend a vaccine clinic.

In collaboration with the City, the Toronto Shelter Network has also launched the on-site Peer Champion Program across priority shelter sites (sites with less than 50 per cent vaccination rate) to improve vaccination access and uptake for shelter residents. The City also funds a mobile peer vaccine ambassador program where people with lived experience of homelessness help connect vaccination teams with shelter residents to encourage vaccine uptake.

The City also continues to work with TSN to host targeted information sessions for youth and families, as well as with TSN and the Black Physicians of Ontario to host Black client-centred vaccine clinics and vaccine webinars.

Vaccination is mandatory for City staff, and all shelter, 24-hour respite sites and women’s 24-hour drop-in providers are required to have a policy that requires all persons working at any site be fully vaccinated.

The City is committed to decreasing the risk of outbreaks in the shelter system and continues to ensure Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures meet or exceed Ontario Ministry of Health guidance for congregate settings.

As outbreaks are identified, they are discussed closely with staff, service providers and TPH to determine the best course of action and to develop an outbreak management plan for the site. The City continues to operate an isolation and recovery centre for individuals who test positive and referrals for new admissions are ongoing. There is a high demand for the program, however spaces become available on a daily basis as people are discharged.

In discussion with TPH, and when recommended, there will be cases where people impacted by COVID-19 will isolate on-site at their shelter of origin. Unique isolation plans will be developed with service providers should this occur to ensure they have the support needed to continue to operate in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines for isolation and outbreaks in congregate living settings.

The City is also currently working to strengthen protection for all front-line staff through the acquisition and fit testing of N95 respirators. A two-week supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators for staff have been sent to both City-operated and purchase of service-operated shelters, 24-hour respite sites and drop-in locations. Mask fit-testing work is underway and the surgical mask and N95 respirator supplies will be replenished in two weeks. As shelters are deemed an essential service, distribution of a 25-day supply of rapid antigen tests for staff is underway.

In response to the increasing spread of COVID-19, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) is introducing Temporary Pandemic Wage Enhancement Program for frontline workers in non-profit homelessness organizations. The Program will provide a $4 per hour top-up to eligible direct-service workers in homelessness service community agencies when working in an eligible workplace that receives funding from SSHA. This aims to support community providers and their workers during this challenging time and stabilize the workforce for essential homelessness services.

To ensure service continuity and a high level of support is maintained to help those experiencing homelessness in light of the Omicron variant, the City has also announced contingency plans that will allow SSHA to redeploy staff to support essential shelter operations, as needed.

For more information regarding Toronto’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the shelter system, visit Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Toronto Shelter System