The window to control the spread of COVID-19 strains across Toronto’s homeless community – and beyond- has widened, thanks to the provincial government’s endorsement of immediate vaccination for this vulnerable population.
“Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) appreciates the province’s decision to make people experiencing homelessness a Phase One priority group for vaccination. Given their higher risk of COVID infection and severe health effects, and the recent raft of cases across the shelter system, we are relieved that wide-scale immunization is starting in earnest next week,” said ICHA Medical Director Dr. Andrew Bond.
Dr. Bond says ICHA will play various roles in the immunization effort and is proud to work with health system partners as part of a comprehensive regionally coordinated effort to protect the homeless population from COVID. He notes that ICHA’s Population Health team has been providing leadership and guidance since the pandemic’s early days, identifying shelter residents facing the greatest risk of harm, reaching out to lend on-the-ground support, and now helping shelters secure the highest possible uptake.
Early in 2020, ICHA developed interprofessional clinical models of care to serve the needs of the homeless population during the pandemic and began delivering services in the spring. A multi-party collaboration – ICHA, University Health Network, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, Toronto Shelter Support and Housing Administration and the Toronto Neighbourhood Group – have been providing care and supports at multiple locations, including COVID recovery sites and physically distancing hotels.
ICHA’s work with Toronto’s homeless community started long before COVID-19. Since 2005, it has offered primary care, psychiatry and palliative care to people on the street, at shelter-based clinics, drop-in sites and encampments. ICHA has become the largest homeless health organization in Canada, with 200 physicians and nurses offering Toronto’s homeless and precariously housed population with direct access to high-quality health services.
Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health, ICHA works to bring integrated health and support services to the homeless community to improve individual and population health. It aims to set the standard of excellence in homeless health service delivery and is dedicated to addressing deficits in the social determinants of health and to ending homelessness.
“Our job isn’t done when vaccines start flowing; it isn’t even done when the COVID-19 outbreaks end in shelters. Our job will only be done when every homeless person in Toronto who wants a vaccine has one, and when every homeless person in Toronto has a home,” said Bond.
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