Social services providers play an important role in supporting vulnerable populations including those who are unsheltered and use substances.
We would like to recognize it is a challenging time especially for those of you working at the front lines with very vulnerable populations. Supporting the health and welfare of vulnerable populations during the pandemic requires balancing measures that need to be taken to prevent transmission of COVID-19 against the risks of withdrawing your essential services such as: housing/shelter, food security, mental health supports, personal care, overdose prevention, harm reduction.
For information on feeding unsheltered, street-involved and vulnerable populations, go to our Food Banks & Food Distribution page.
The Provincial Health Officer’s order of no gatherings with more than 50 people is intended to apply to one-time, entertainment, community and social events. Shelters and single room occupancy housing are exempt from this order because shelters and SROs are regarded as peoples’ homes from a public health perspective.
Overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites are also exempt from this order, as they are clinical spaces that provide an essential service so service delivery should continue as much as possible.
While you continue to provide essential services, you should adapt these measures wherever possible:
- Adapt your services or space arrangements to maintain physical distancing of two meters between individuals.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette (cough or sneeze into elbow sleeve, dispose tissues properly).
- Conduct frequent disinfection.
Vulnerable populations are at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission and more severe illness.
We recommend you work with your health authority Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs), their municipal partners and representatives of local vulnerable populations to:
- initiate active surveillance to identify clusters/outbreaks early
- identify alternative spaces that can be used to house people who are suspected of having COVID-19 and require self-isolation
- develop plans/arrangements to manage substance use concerns in a self-isolation setting (i.e. managed alcohol, iOAT etc.)
- discuss staffing needs and possible re-deployment of staff/volunteers to ensure essential social service continuity
- Any client/staff who has respiratory symptoms should be given a mask to wear (if available), placed in self-isolation and be tested for COVID-19.
- If a space for self-isolation is not available, measures to maintain physical distancing of at least two meters should be taken.
- Staff who develop respiratory symptoms at work should:
- put on a mask (if available), practice respiratory etiquette AND
- go home as soon as possible, self-isolate for 10 days and get tested.
- If individual rooms for sick clients are not available, consider using a large, well-ventilated room to cohort symptomatic patients together.
- A separation of two metres between ill clients and other clients will help reduce the spread of the virus. Privacy curtains should be drawn if available.
- The client should be restricted to his/ her self-isolation space, including during meals and any other social activity.
This document provides guidance on providing overdose prevention services outside of an established supervised consumption or overdose prevention site (SCS/OPS) such as in acute care, shelters, supportive housing or other social service settings. This guidance supports staff who may receive requests from patients, clients or residents to observe substance use and respond to overdose or may recognize the benefit of providing this service.
Volunteers supporting people in their community have an important role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Volunteers should follow guidelines for hand washing, cleaning, and physical distancing to keep themselves and the people they work with safe.
- If you’re ill, stay home
- Practice physical distancing. When it is not possible to maintain safe physical distance, non-medical or cloth masks offer some level of protection and are recommended when working with vulnerable populations.
- Practice good hand hygiene
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly