Early in the pandemic, we talked about the increased risk COVID causes for women experiencing homelessness in Niagara. We know that not only would homeless women be more likely to get sick, we also recognize the challenges of self-isolating when you don’t have a home of your own. Women may be couch surfing with friends or family, living in a crowded group setting like an emergency shelter, or living out of her car. None of these realities are the solution to keeping impoverished women and families safe during a pandemic.
The stakes have never been higher
Now, in the third lockdown in Ontario, the stakes have never been higher for woman and families experiencing homelessness. COVID case numbers are rising in Niagara putting homeless individuals at risk. Beyond this, the provincial laws are shifted with the stay-at-home order that further challenge the capabilities of women and families, many of which lack the resources to remain “at home” or indoors.
Staying at home in an unsafe environment
For months, the pandemic has limited women’s mobility to leave unsafe and inadequate living situations. Sometimes they live with an abuser but leaving means making themselves (and sometimes even their children) homeless. Other times, women battling addiction live in an unsafe environment where drug use takes place. Long before COVID and the province’s stay-at-home order, the risk to physical safety and mental health posed incredible challenges for women to seek and maintain stable housing. Over a year later, these issues are even more glaring in the face of the pandemic.
Hidden homelessness and the stay-at-home order
Not often will you see a woman or a family sleeping on the streets. Instead, for their safety, women are often forced to hide their homelessness. Hidden homelessness looking like a woman sleeping in her car (despite the harsh Canadian seasons), a woman jumping from one friend’s couch to another before she runs out of places to go, a woman temporarily living in an emergency shelter. None of these women have a home – a stable home.
We need to stop the spread of COVID-19, so what does this mean for homeless women and families?
The reality of the province’s stay-at-home order is that we need to encourage people with homes to be at home as much as possible. Other options have not worked. While the circumstances are beyond challenging for Niagara’s economy, we recognize the imminent need to reduce to spread of COVID-19 and its variant strains.
So, what does this mean for women and families accessing community services like the YW? Resources are tighter, consultations and appointments are fully online (if available at all), waitlists for permanent housing continue to grow, and an increasing amount of people need our service more than ever.
Like everyone else, community services are being hit hard during this pandemic, but we know this work is needed in Niagara. Help us advocate for a COVID relief fund for community services to be built into the 2021 Federal Budget. Our frontline workers are holding together the fabric of our community during these challenging times, but they need your help. And if you have the means, please consider supporting our work.