As the coronavirus situation intensifies, community workers are urging elected officials to not forget vulnerable populations, and for governments to commit to programs that will ensure people are not left behind and that their needs are top of mind in any post-COVID-19 plan.
One group advocates are worried about is the homeless, many of whom lost jobs and income when the economy shut down earlier this year.
Workers point to a recent temporary camp in Montreal North, a COVID-19 hot spot in the city. Community groups say this type of encampment sheds a light on the housing crisis gripping the city and shows exactly who is being left behind as the second wave of the pandemic hits.
“In order for us to move forward through the second wave of the pandemic, we need to do better than we did the first time, Nakuset Sohkisiwin, Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal executive director insisted.
Among the homeless are members of Indigenous communities who, she pointed out, are often victims of systemic racism.
The city set up temporary shelters for the homeless most recently at the former Royal Vic Hospital but Sohkisiwin said more is needed and that some parts of the city aren’t being served.
“We’re really hoping that the City of Montreal is going to do better to help this population, because it’s cold and rainy and this is basically a disaster waiting to happen,” she noted.
Advocates also point to asylum seekers, especially those who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic. They say at least one — Marcelin François, a former patient orderly — has died from the virus.
“We have a group of people who have been labelled guardian angels and they’re still waiting to see how that’s gonna pay off for them, people that have been taking risks” stressed Frantz André of the Non-status Action Committee, a group which supports refugee claimants.
In August, the federal government said refugee claimants who worked in health care could be eligible for permanent residency status, but those fighting for them say others, like hospital security guards and food service workers, who also risked their lives and should be considered.
“They are being exploited and they are underpaid,” Mohamed Barry, a former refugee claimant, told Global News.
He insisted that asylum seekers should be paid the same as other workers and that they shouldn’t be forced into working conditions that put them at risk.
He and community workers caution that unless authorities take concrete measures to protect these and other vulnerable people, the cost of the pandemic will be much higher.