Amanda Buchnea, Policy & Planning Coordinator, A Way Home Canada

Niveen Saleh, Communications Manager, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness

Homelessness: The ongoing crisis within the global pandemic

It’s been over two months since Canada started to take emergency action against the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on the advocates, frontline workers and community members raised concerns of how the homeless-serving sector and people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness would cope. Indeed, inequitable access to basic needs, such as housing and nutritious food, are more widely experienced and understood in this era of #stayhome. The imperative to uphold and protect the rights of those most marginalized and at-risk during the crisis is more deeply felt than ever.

For the most part, the homeless-serving sector was already in crisis-mode, responding to the immediate needs of people without access to stable housing with stop-gap initiatives such as drop-ins, emergency shelters, and soup kitchens. Many of these programs and services have disappeared or were significantly altered to comply with social distancing requirements.

Remarkably, despite or maybe because of the new challenges and complexity that COVID-19 has added to the work of addressing homelessness, some communities are adapting and innovating.

Seeds of social change and innovation

Communities have rapidly jumped into action and we have heard some incredible stories emerge from the frontlines. In particular, participants in our first youth-sector survey shared how they have been:

  • Collaborating to share information and resources
  • Convening partners within and outside of the youth sector to take collective action
  • Finding new ways to use technology for outreach and engagement with young people

These stories show us the seeds of social change and innovation that, if nurtured strategically and thoughtfully, can support greater community resiliency during the phases of recovery and rebuilding. We can also see the risk factors, barriers and challenges that hold some communities back from seeing success and identify ways to support them better.

Communities and organizations can’t do this alone – it will take coordinated action from government, the private sector, and civil society to sustain the positive changes and innovations that have emerged during the pandemic, as well as address the ongoing challenges at systemic and structural levels.

A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness have been in conversation with national partners at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and HelpSeeker to identify ways to capture and share the stories from the frontlines. We invite you to share your organization or community’s story of working to sow the seeds of change in our *new online Storytelling space.* Over the coming weeks, we want to hear the stories that are emerging and provide space to share how you may be doing things differently to meet the needs of people in your community. We may be in touch to see if you’d be interested in being featured in future blog posts and other content so more communities can learn from each other in this rapidly evolving time.

Do you have a story of hope or inspiration? Of new or unique partnerships and collaboration? Of challenges that have been made into opportunities? Of lasting change that will live on beyond the COVID-19 crisis? Or perhaps your story is one of struggle and barriers yet to be overcome.

Whatever your story is, we would love to hear from you!