Humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will be operating for the first time within Canada when it provides assistance to homeless Torontonians amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of the city’s doctors announced Monday.
According to a news release from Inner City Health Associates (ICHA), MSF Canada will help with organizing Toronto’s first COVID-19 “recovery site,” a 400-bed social support project aimed at treating members of the city’s homeless population who have contracted the novel coronavirus.
“This aligned action reflects the severity of COVID-19, its profound impact on homelessness in Toronto and the urgent need to mount a massive response beyond ICHA’s current capacity,” ICHA medical director Dr. Andrew Bond said in a news release.
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is an international NGO that focuses on providing medical aid in some of the world’s poorest regions.
The group’s executive director, Joseph Belliveau, said the magnitude of the virus’ impact on vulnerable groups, like Canada’s homeless population, has created an acute need for help.
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“With our extensive experience responding to outbreaks, such as Ebola, cholera and diphtheria, in conflict-affected, low-resource areas, we see an opportunity to share our knowledge with first responders here in Canada to prepare and assist a community that is highly exposed to the virus,” Belliveau said.
The lack of a dedicated recovery site for the city’s homeless has pushed those with mild symptoms to isolation locations across the city to wait for their results — locations that aren’t equipped to care for homeless patients who might test positive for COVID-19, a memo obtained by Global News revealed on Friday.
According to the ICHA, the novel coronavirus presents an “unprecedented” threat to the 8,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city. The organization said that such a virus would have a “disproportionate and devastating” impact on them.
Hundreds of front-line health-care workers have since called for immediate action to help the city’s homeless population — the latest being an open letter addressed to municipal and provincial officials to expand testing and surveillance across shelters and boarding homes.
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It is not clear yet when the recovery site will launch, but the ICHA said it was slated to open “soon.”
— With files from Global News reporters Matthew Bingley and Caryn Lieberman