Homeless in a pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives became centred on staying home. But what if you don’t have one?

This April, premier Stephen McNeil told Nova Scotians to “stay the blazes home” to halt the spread of COVID-19. But for the hundreds of people in HRM without a roof over their heads, McNeil’s no-nonsense call-to-action was impossible to heed. That put our city’s homeless population, already vulnerable, even more at risk during a time of unprecedented crisis.

To bring awareness to this reality, United Way Halifax launched the No Home campaign on May 19.

Many people have probably seen the popular “Stay Home” sticker popping up on Instagram stories — maybe you’ve used it yourself. Tweaking the premier’s overnight catchphrase, United Way Halifax set up nine installations around HRM. We placed “No Home” stickers in public locations along with staged scenes depicting homelessness. Why did we do this? Because people can’t support issues they don’t know about, and in the midst of a pandemic, it’s never been more important to provide for people in need of safe and secure housing.

Homelessness during COVID-19

We know that COVID-19 tends to affect people with underlying health conditions more seriously. And we also know that people who experience homelessness are more vulnerable to health problems.  Infrequent medical attention, poor nutrition and exposure to the elements contribute to poor health. The average lifespan of a person living on Canada’s streets is only 47.

What’s more, the number of people in our community who are living on the streets is growing, as the municipality’s rock-bottom residential vacancy rate creates a more challenging housing market for those living on the edge of poverty. The municipality needs an estimated 14,000 affordable-housing units.

Meanwhile, there are only 116 shelter beds in HRM (down from 175 pre-COVID-19), which fill to capacity most nights. Personal-hygiene measures, like frequent hand-washing and social-distancing, are hard to practice in the city’s crowded shelters.

So when you see a No Home installation around town or a Stay Home sticker on Instagram, we hope you stop and reflect on the challenges facing hundreds of our neighbours — and we hope it may inspire you to share the campaign on your own social media profile, or possibly make a donation.

Donations to United Way are helping our community deal with COVID-19 by helping to meet immediate needs, like providing temporary housing and making washrooms available. It’s not a forever solution, but it’s a meaningful start. And of course, United Way is deeply involved in finding long-term solutions to homelessness across the municipality. We fund organizations that provide emergency and temporary housing for families and individuals in need. And we connect people with the important resources and supports they need to start building a better life.