Guidance for providers of services for people experiencing homelessness (in the context of COVID-19)

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Homelessness in the context of COVID-19

Many people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing homelessness rely on community-based organizations, non-profit and voluntary organizations for a range of essential services. The following recommendations are for the homelessness-serving sector (including overnight emergency shelters, day shelters, and meal service providers).

Those who experience homelessness may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications due to COVID-19, as they may not be able to access and use traditional services and standard resources. Footnote 1 These circumstances may affect their ability to follow public health advice, such as being able to effectively isolate/self-isolate from others and perform proper hand hygiene.

Organizations, community health workers and volunteers play an important role in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those who experience homelessness. It is important that these service providers plan ahead and take precautions in their environments/workplaces, based on public health advice to reduce disruptions to their services. Consider reaching out to the population you serve, management and local governments to understand the essential requirements of your organization during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Planning for a COVID-19 outbreak in your community

Homeless service providers should collaborate, share information, and review emergency plans with community leaders and local Public Health Authorities (PHAs) to ensure measures in place to help protect their staff, clients, and guests.

Set a time to discuss what homeless service providers should do if cases of COVID-19 are suspected or confirmed in their facility. Identify if alternate care sites are available for clients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or if service providers should plan to isolate cases within their facility.

Anticipate an increase in absenteeism among homeless service provider staff. Develop flexible attendance and sick-leave policies. Staff (and volunteers) may need to stay home when they are sick, caring for a sick household member, or caring for their children in the event of school dismissals. Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff members.

Note: Use a process similar to the one you use when you cover for staff workers during the holidays.

Ensure that staff and/or clients are aware of financial and other support programs available through federal, provincial/territorial and local governments to those with financial instability related to COVID-19 (e.g. for those who are not able to work due to illness/exposure, isolation/self-isolation, or loss of job/income). Information on Government of Canada assistance is available at

Help counter stigma and discrimination in your community. Speak out against negative behaviors toward those who may experience stigma.

Responding to a COVID-19 outbreak in your community

Work with your local PHA to establish plans to reduce the risk of transmission in your environment, and to ensure alignment with local or jurisdictional protocols for diagnostic testing, self-isolation/isolation and clinical management if your clients or staff have exposures or develop symptoms. If there is person-to-person spread in your local community, consider that clients with respiratory symptoms (new or worsening cough, fever or difficulty breathing) may have COVID-19.

Put your emergency operations and communication plans into action

Recovery from a COVID-19 outbreak that has ended in your community

A COVID-19 outbreak could last a long time, and the impact on your facility may be considerable. When the PHA determines the outbreak has ended in your community, take time to talk over your experiences with your clients, staff and volunteers. As PHAs continue to plan for COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks, your organization has an important role to play in ongoing planning efforts.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your organization's plan of action

Continue to practice everyday preventive actions. Stay home when you are sick; cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue; wash your hands often with soap and water; and clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily.

Maintain and expand your emergency planning. Look for ways to expand community partnerships. Identify agencies or partners needed to help you prepare for an infectious disease outbreak in the future.

For more information: 1-833-784-4397

Public Health Authorities
Provinces and Territories Telephone number Website
British Columbia 811
Alberta 811
Saskatchewan 811
Manitoba 1-888-315-9257
Ontario 1-866-797-0000
Quebec 1-877-644-4545
New Brunswick 811
Nova Scotia 811
Prince Edward Island 811
Newfoundland and Labrador 811


Nunavut 867-975-5772
Northwest Territories 911
Yukon Territory 811

Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of People Experiencing Homelessness

Infection Prevention and Control Resources for Homelessness Service Settings (Toronto Public Health)


Footnote 1

PHAC. January 13 2020. Tracey O'Sullivan. DRAFT. Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness: Planning Guidance for the Health Sector: Psychosocial Considerations for Resilience Annex.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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