COVID-19: Toronto immunization clinics aimed at vaccinating those experiencing homelessness

Tents set up by the homeless are seen in Moss Park in downtown Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, as activists march in a nearby street. Several groups are suing the city for failing to protect the health and safety of homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

The City of Toronto says it is continuing its efforts to vaccinate those experiencing homelessness against COVID-19, by holding more than 150 immunization clinics this month.

In a press release issued Friday, the city said it is continuing to “prioritize access” for vaccinations for those experiencing homelessness by holding 154 clinics in January.

The city said it has been working with the Toronto Shelter Network (TSN), Toronto Public Health (TPH) and other health partners to “increase vaccine uptake amongst people experiencing homelessness.”

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The city said TPH has scheduled 50 clinics in January, while the Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) has scheduled 104.

The release said TPH mobile vaccine clinics are held seven days a week at shelters, 24-hour respite sites and 24-hour women’s drop-ins.

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The city says since May 7, 2021, 12,429 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered at 871 shelter and drop-in clinics.

What’s more, as of Dec. 31, 2021, a total of 3,226 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to those experiencing homelessness by ICHA.

The ICHA’s Nursing Teams have hosted 447 shelter clinics since April 19, 2021, the release said.

Dr. Andrew Bond, director of ICHA, said people experiencing homelessness “tend to be highly mobile and the population fluctuates and changes over time.”

“It is essential that the City and health partners continue to offer as many vaccination options as possible right across the city to ensure that everyone has access to COVID-19 immunization,” he said in the release.

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By Friday, the city said 76 per cent of people 12 and older who are currently staying in the shelter system have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Sixty-five per cent have received their second dose, and 13 per cent have had their third shot.

Thirty per cent of children between five and 11 have had their first COVID-19 shot.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city has “worked throughout the pandemic to protect the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness.”

“Along with working to maintain a safe environment within the shelters with the best advice from health professionals on Infection Protection and Control (IPAC) measures, we have worked to ensure consistent access to the COVID-19 vaccine for people experiencing homelessness and to address vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine uptake,” he said in the release.

He said the “best defence to maintain a safe environment within shelters and amongst each other is ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated.”

The city said it continues to provide incentives for people experiencing homelessness to attend a vaccine clinic.

City officials also said work continues with TSN to host “targeted information sessions for youth and families, as well as with TSN and the Black Physicians of Ontario to host Black client-centred vaccine clinics and vaccine webinars.”

The city said it is also still operating an isolation and recovery centre for people who test positive.

“There is a high demand for the program, however spaces become available on a daily basis as people are discharged,” the release reads.

Protection for front-line staff

According to the city, officials are also working to “strengthen protection” for front-line staff.

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The city says a two-week supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators for staff have been sent to city-operated and other shelters, respite sites and drop-in locations.

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“Mask fit-testing work is underway and the surgical mask and N95 respirator supplies will be replenished in two weeks,” the release reads.

The city also said distribution of a 25-day supply of rapid antigen tests for staff “is underway.”

Pandemic wage enhancement program

According to the city, the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) is introducing the Temporary Pandemic Wage Enhancement Program for front-line workers in non-profit homelessness organizations.

The city says the program will provide a four dollar per hour top-up to eligible direct-service workers in homelessness service community agencies “when working in an eligible workplace that receives funding from SSHA.”

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“This aims to support community providers and their workers during this challenging time and stabilize the workforce for essential homelessness services,” the release reads.

The city says it has contingency plans that will allow the SSHA to “redeploy staff to support essential shelter operations, as needed.”

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