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People who are unsheltered

There is a highly contagious virus (COVID-19 or coronavirus) impacting all communities. Here is important information for unsheltered people and those who work with vulnerable populations to protect themselves and others.


The following tips will help to protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching surfaces and people.
  • Don’t touch your face. Sneeze or cough into elbows.
  • If you cannot wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer, try to use alcohol-based hand wipes.
  • Avoid hugs and handshakes. Keep two arms’ length away from other people.
  • Wipe down belongings (including money).
  • Don’t share drinks and be cautious about food.
  • Try to pick up packaged meals and food from shelters and food banks.
  • Harm reduction: Do not share supplies, such as cigarettes, joints, pipes, and other supplies. If you have to share, wipe pipes with alcohol wipes or use mouthpieces. Prepare your own supplies and drugs.
  • Note: Some people may have minor or no symptoms and still carry/spread the virus. Be cautious, avoid large groups of people.


Symptoms of human coronaviruses may be very mild or more serious, such as:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

Makeshift sanitation station if you do not have access to water

Supplies needed: 5 gallon or larger gravity flow, insulated container, water, waste water bucket, soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer. Ask outreach or frontline staff for help if you do not have 24/7 access to running water.

What to do if…

  1. You have flu-like symptoms, fever or a dry cough or think you have been exposed to COVID-19.
    • Try to self-isolate and call 8-1-1 to ask about medical assistance and screening for testing.
    • If you don’t have a phone, outreach workers and shelter staff can help. Inform staff immediately of your symptoms and maintain a distance from others.

  2. You have underlying health issues (TB, Hep, HIV, diabetes) or are immuno-compromised and are concerned about exposure to COVID-19 at clinics, hospitals or shelters.
    • Take the same measures as you do to avoid influenza, colds and other illnesses such as washing your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
    • It is prudent to have at least a two-week supply of medications on hand.
    • View more information for people with chronic conditions or call 8-1-1 for medical information. Call for non-medical information 1-888-COVID19 (1- 888-268-4319).

  3. You are having severe difficulty breathing, (e.g. struggling to breathe or speaking in single words) or severe chest pain.
    • Call 9-1-1, or ask someone to call for you.

  4. You have to self-isolate or quarantine but do not have anywhere safe to go or any supplies.
    • Inform outreach or shelter staff of your situation.
    • Call the new hotline 1-888-COVID19 (1 888-268-4319)
    • Buddy up when you are using. COVID-19 is passed by droplets. Stay 2m (6.5 ft) from your buddy to avoid passing the virus. Using with a buddy is safer than using alone.

  5. You need prescription medication, access to Overdose Prevention sites or Opioid Agonist Therapy (suboxone, methadone).
    • Ask for help. Talk to a pharmacist or addictions doctor.
    • Try to have the medications you need (such as OAT). Refills may be available directly through your pharmacist or by phone without having to see your physician.

Please note some public spaces like libraries, recreation centres, community centres and stores may be closed. Please reach out and ask for help if you need it.

Information for those that work with vulnerable populations

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.

Continuing essential social services while integrating public health principles to minimize transmission of COVID-19

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 from a public health perspective, shelters and SROs are regarded as peoples’ homes.

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.

Active surveillance in vulnerable populations to identify clusters/outbreaks and prepare for suspected cases

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

If staff or clients develop COVID-19-like symptoms in your settings

  • Any client/staff who has respiratory symptoms should be given a mask to wear (if available) and placed in self-isolation.
  • 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 and self-isolate for 10 days.
  • 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.

More resources

SOURCE: People who are unsheltered ( )
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