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Homeless individuals not connected to shelters struggling to access washrooms amid COVID-19

'With the libraries and a lot of other public places closed, the washroom piece is really problematic,' says co-founder and organizer of Out of the Cold Jeff Karabanow
homeless man
(stock photo)

Accessing a sanitary bathroom is now more of a challenge for some of the city's homeless amid COVID-19 business and municipal facillity closures.

Regular hand washing with soap and water is one of the first things public health officials in Canada and with the World Health Organization, recommend to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses. But accessing a sink and soap, isn't always possible for those on the streets. 

Out of the Cold is a community-based, volunteer-run winter shelter that provides accommodation to those experiencing homelessness in Halifax. Its co-founder Jeff Karabanow says the city shutting down, has created even more instability for the homeless population. 

"With the libraries and a lot of other public places closed, the washroom piece is really problematic," says Karabanow. "For now if you are not connected with a shelter, I'm not sure if there are other places you can go."

The government of Canada's website says those who experience homelessness may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications due to the virus. 

Karabanow says shelters in the city are working to support social distancing to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, by designating homeless individuals to specific shelters.

"We have tried to create spaces in our own establishments for a particular number of folks so we can maintain public protocol and also provide a safe, and caring environment," he says. "Now every shelter has a group who can kind of call the space home."

Karabanow says the province has helped set up a few community pop-up sites as well, but he says more government aid is needed. 

"If you are not connected to one of these shelters, and now most of them are at capacity, people will have a harder time to find basics like a place to use the washroom," he says. "We need to create some form of public access."

Premier Stephen McNeil said at an update on COVID-19 response Wednesday, that it will continue to work with the Halifax Regional Municipality and with its shelters to help people on the streets. 

"All of this reminds us of the deep inequality in our communities, where we have folks who don't have this kind of basic access," Karabanow says. "They live their whole private lives in a public space." 

Katie Hartai

About the Author: Katie Hartai

In addition to being a reporter for NEWS 95.7 and, Katie is the producer of The Rick Howe Show
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