For Winnipeg's homeless, life on the street presents daily challenges for survival. Those challenges have been amplified by the disruptions brought on by COVID-19.
Siloam Mission, long active on the front lines, is receiving grant money through the Federal Government's Reaching Home grant program in an effort to shore up their capabilities.
Luke Thiessen, Communications Manager for Siloam, described their process for implementing social distancing.
"The first thing we did to address COVID-19 was to suspend our volunteering to limit exposure to our community. With volunteers gone, we're relying on staff to pick up the slack."
Having no volunteers means that their capacity to run non-essential programming is severely limited. Instead, they're focussing on providing meals, primary health care, and as much emergency shelter as possible.
"It's the people who were already vulnerable who are being hit hard by this."
"We've limited access to our building to just those who are staying in our shelter. That's a maximum of 110 men and women who were taken in before the pandemic. In order to properly isolate, we haven't been bringing in new shelter guests."
It's hard to say what the exact scope of the need is. The only data Siloam has on the number of homeless persons in Winnipeg comes from the Winnipeg Street Census. Unfortunately, this year's census was cancelled because of the outbreak. However, Thiessen says that this pandemic is likely to result in an increase of persons needing support.
"According to the information we have, we know that homelessness is not going away. We do expect to see people who are on the brink of homelessness pushed into it because of the pandemic. The flip side is that the Government response has been really good. We've seen some new money come in for projects for the purposes of isolation. But, we don't know when this will lift. We're bracing ourselves for an increase in the need for services."