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COVID-19, Mental Wellness, and the Homelessness Workforce – Policy Brief

Purpose
This brief analyzes the impacts and policy considerations of the pandemic for people providing services to individuals who experience homelessness or precarious housing. It is intended for policy makers and organizations working across the mental health, substance use, and homelessness sectors — since throughout the pandemic success across various sets of systems (including housing, mental health, and substance use) relies on coordination. We are all living in and being supported by the same sets of systems, where the faltering of one sector harms us all.

The brief also provides the preliminary findings from an ongoing national mixed-methods study conducted by CAMH researchers Nick Kerman and Sean Kidd. The study recruited service providers for people experiencing homelessness in three community settings: (1) homeless services, (2) supportive housing, and (3) harm reduction services. Data were collected beginning in November 2020, using an online survey of 427 direct service providers. This phase was followed by qualitative interviews with direct service providers and service directors.

Background
COVID-19 has had an overwhelming impact on people who experience homelessness and precarious housing. It has brought to light and exacerbated existing gaps in housing policy and long-standing underfunding across the sector, which have in turn led to higher rates in both areas. While innovations spurred by the pandemic’s public health response and the need for physical isolation have created some additional capacity through the use of hotels and the repurposing of shelters, these emergency measures are not keeping pace with the increased demand. For shelters and community organizations providing essential services, COVID-19 has strained their ability to meet this demand while maintaining public health guidelines.


Summary of Recommendations

  1. Build on the prioritization of homelessness during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to address funding, resources, and policy gaps at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
  2. Prioritize workers for personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccine distribution, and other resources as the pandemic continues.
  3. Extend improvements made during COVID-19 to pay and benefits, including hazard pay and sick leave, as part of broader efforts to change the culture of invisibility for workers who are part of Canada’s care economy.
  4. Increase workers’ access to mental health and substance use services and supports, including employment-based benefits, during and following the pandemic.
  5. Build capacity for the homelessness workforce to respond to the mental wellness needs of self and others through ongoing training and supervision.
  6. Strengthen support networks within and across organizations working to address homelessness, including through community support, support from managers, and peer support from co-workers and people with lived or living experience.

In a hurry? Check out the highlights from this policy brief.

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