For a moment this spring it seemed as if the COVID-19 crisis might lead governments to ease the relentless cycle of displacement of homeless people from the parks, streets, ravines and underpasses of Canadian cities. Some made efforts to secure housing where homeless people could follow COVID-19 guidelines. Others, including in Edmonton, Toronto, and Victoria announced suspensions of evictions of some homeless camps during the emergency.

But the respite was short-lived. Edmonton and Toronto resumed clearances in May. British Columbia cleared Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and the Topaz and Pandora camps in Victoria. Other camps were cleared from Winnipeg to Barrie, Ontario.

Back in April, U of T Scarborough sociology professor Joseph Hermer observed a trend that is now playing out on Toronto’s streets: how the spread of COVID-19 would impact the homeless, and the way that they are policed in public spaces.

Several worrying factors impacted their susceptibility: an inadequate shelter system, where social distancing has been a challenge, their increased likelihood to suffer from underlying health conditions, and the policing of the homeless, where many of the normal activities that this population undertake to stay alive are criminalized across Canada.

“Visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples are vastly over-represented in the homeless population,” explains Hermer. “Homelessness is a very visible expression of profound inequality and prejudice.”

The mayor of Sarnia thinks it’s time to take another look at a guaranteed annual income, this time on a national scale.

Ontario had previously experimented with the Basic Income Pilot program, but later cancelled it.

Now, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) already running, the time has come to look at doing it on a national scale and not just for a time of crisis such as the current pandemic.

“I do think if you look at the fact you [don’t] want to leave a segment of society just dog paddling in life and getting no place, and no ability to get to a better place —then it’s worth trying on specific targeted groups to see if it works,” he said.

During this COVID 19 Pandemic, Justin Trudeau should seize this moment and take an initiative to implement new socially progressive programs, like a universal basic income and a national pharmacare program. Our country needs a Franklin Delano Roosevelt “New Deal” Approach to some of our country’s socioeconomic ills! Out of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945) came Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, and in Canada’s case, Family Allowance (or the “Baby Bonus”). Many of our European allies implemented universal public medicare (including pharmacare) systems in their respective countries long before Canada did. Now, hard times call for desperate measures!

In June the news that 46 homeless people were arrested in a Vancouver, B.C. encampment for refusing to leave was cause for alarm across the country. In Kingston, Ontario, the threatened eviction of an encampment was put on hold in response to outcry from activists.

Municipalities are intentionally neglecting to provide the most basic public health measures for encampments: event-style washrooms, running water, handwashing stations, garbage pick-up and fire safety.

Encampments are here to stay and they will grow. Why? Because of the deafening silence both pre and post COVID on a national housing program.

City officials are in talks to move homeless people out of tents in two downtown parks and into hotel rooms as nearby residents say the encampment is encroaching on their green space and has made them feel unsafe.

Roughly 40 tents have been set up in the two parks and they are seen as one encampment. The tents are near Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, a Christian charity that seeks to provide community for marginalized people.

The B.C. government has bought a 110-room hotel on Granville Street and 63-room hotel in the Vancouver’s West End to house the homeless and others in immediate need, and provide long-term affordable housing.

The acquisitions, worth a total of nearly $75 million, follows the province’s recent purchase of two hotels in Victoria for to house homeless from two tent encampments in the capital city.

The Vancouver deals are the 110-room Howard Johnson Hotel at 1176 Granville Street, bought for $55 million, and the Buchan Hotel at 1906 Haro Street, bought for $19.4 million. The Buchan will provide housing with supports for women. The hotel is empty, and residents will begin moving into the Buchan in July.