After COVID let’s never get back to normal

By: Elizabeth Clarke

Right now, everyone working in the homelessness sector – including countless health, social service and municipal workers who don’t ordinarily work in the industry but who’ve been redeployed there for the duration of the pandemic – is focused on the COVID response. We aren’t looking more than a few days – or at most- weeks ahead.

But before COVID, we were starting to talk about adding more and different kinds of shelter spaces in the Region of Waterloo. It wasn’t an easy conversation, because for many politicians and bureaucrats and housing advocates, adding more shelter spaces means saying we don’t prioritize permanent housing. Or, it means diverting limited resources from permanent solutions to temporary ones and potentially slowing our progress toward our ultimate goal of permanent housing for everyone.

Significantly, the biggest obstacle we’re facing now to getting everyone into a shelter isn’t space. With so many businesses shut down, and so many wanting to help, we have more offers of space than we can use. The biggest obstacle now is staffing. Just as long-term care facilities are struggling to staff their homes, we’re struggling to staff the shelters we currently have, let alone to add more (hence all the redeployments). And I think that’s, at least in part, because of the way we’ve undervalued homeless people, and by extension homeless shelters and shelter work.

One good thing to come out of the pandemic has to be the light that it’s shone on the gross and even dangerous inadequacy of services our society provides to our most vulnerable: the elderly, people with disabilities, and people who are homeless. It’s hard to imagine that we could ever go back to the way we worked pre-COVID.

Consider donating to the YW Kitchener-Waterloo and help us house women and families in need through this difficult time. 


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