K6 and HAMSMaRT call on the City of Hamilton to Immediately Open More Shelter Space in Hotels and Hygiene and Rest Centres for the Homeless Community.
Keeping Six – Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team are calling for the opening up of urgently needed hygiene and resting centres as well as more shelter space in hotels for the homeless community in Hamilton. This is a paramount and crucial piece in the efforts we are all taking on as a society to reduce the spread of COVID 19. It is also vital to ensure access to basic human needs during this crisis. We demand that the City of Hamilton:
- Immediately procure hotel rooms so that people who are in shelters or unhoused can practice physical distancing and PREVENT the spread of COVID-19
- Immediately open large indoor public spaces to allow for people to rest, eat, and practice hygiene while maintaining appropriate physical distancing
- Ensure people are able to continue using the substances they depend on no matter what setting they are in, in keeping with the principles and practice of harm reduction
- Do not police people for being homeless, including but not limited to not issuing tickets for loitering, and not enforcing no camping bylaws
- Guarantee people with lived experience of homelessness and/or drug use are at all decision making tables moving forward with respect to the City of Hamilton COVID-19 response as it affects people who are homeless and/or who use drugs
Last week in the wake of many services across the city shuttering or reducing their services to prevent the spread of COVID 19, K6 took to the streets to feed and connect with our friends and loved ones left behind by these sweeping public health measures. We heard over and over again that many of the services people rely upon have been shut down, people have nowhere to go to get warm, to eat, to use the washroom, or wash their hands. People need food and warmth and shelter. People are very worried about being isolated or quarantined and as a result being forced into withdrawal from opioids or alcohol. All of what we are hearing is of concern from a humanitarian standpoint, but also from an infection control perspective. People need space to spread out and stave off the spread of COVID 19 now! Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced funding for municipalities to increase service to vulnerable people. In response to the calls of homeless people and their advocates, municipalities across the country and the world are opening up space in hotels. We think that strategy should and can be adopted here in Hamilton.
As health care providers who have participated in the COVID 19 planning, we know that everyone has been working tirelessly, under very short time lines, but this cannot wait any longer. If conditions for people to spread out are not created now, we fear that COVID 19 will spread like wildfire in the homeless population if and when it takes hold, As people who live and love people living on the street, we know this will have a devastating impact on those of us who already suffer from the ill effects of life on the street and will quickly overwhelm the healthcare system.
The baseline for the health of our community is the health of the poorest and the most marginalized. None of us can truly be healthy if we are not all afforded the opportunity to be healthy. As steeper measures are implemented to encourage and enforce physical distancing, we see an urgent need to provide the opportunity for people who can’t implement these measures to not be criminalized. We are calling on officials to do everything in their power to prevent this issue from becoming one of law and order. This means making it possible for people to distance and isolate.
Finally, we want to send an enormous shout out and thank you to all those who are on the front lines, health and social service and shelter workers. Also importantly grocery, retail and food service workers, sanitation and cleaning workers who are are being revealed as the backbone of the society that they have always been. We see you and we thank you!
Keeping Six- Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League is a community-based organization that defends the rights, dignity and humanity of people who use drugs. It was formed in response to the ravages of the opioid crisis, by people who use drugs and those who love and care for them, for purposes of mutual protection and cooperation.
Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team is an outreach service of general internal medicine and infectious diseases physicians, family physicians, registered nurses, midwifery and outreach workers whose goal is to provide excellence in clinical care to individuals who have difficulty accessing care in the traditional medical system.
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